Brightest Gamma Ray Burst observed for 20 hours provides details that will change Astrophysic Theories

On April 27, a blast of light from a dying star in a distant galaxy became the focus of astronomers around the world. The explosion, known as a gamma-ray burst and designated GRB 130427A, tops the charts as one of the brightest ever seen.

A trio of NASA satellites, working in concert with ground-based robotic telescopes, captured never-before-seen details that challenge current theoretical understandings of how gamma-ray bursts work.

The LAT detected GRB 130427A for about 20 hours, far longer than any previous burst. For a gamma-ray burst, it was relatively nearby. Its light traveled 3.8 billion years before arriving at Earth, about one-third the travel time for light from typical bursts.

“Detailed observations by Swift and ground-based telescopes clearly show that GRB 130427A has properties more similar to typical distant bursts than to nearby ones,” said Gianpiero Tagliaferri, a Swift team member at Brera Observatory in Merate, Italy.

This extraordinary event enabled NASA’s newest X-ray observatory, the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR), to make a first-time detection of a burst afterglow in high-energy, or “hard,” X-rays after more than a day. Taken together with Fermi LAT data, these observations challenge long-standing predictions.

These maps show the sky at energies above 100 MeV as seen by Fermi’s LAT instrument. Left: The sky during a 3-hour interval before GRB 130427A. Right: A 3-hour map ending 30 minutes after the burst. GRB 130427A was located in the constellation Leo, near its border with Ursa Major.
Image Credit: NASA/DOE/Fermi LAT Collaboration

Astronomers around the world were able to view the blast in unprecedented detail and observe several aspects of the event for the first time ever. The data could lead to a rewrite of standard theories of how gamma ray bursts work.

The blast, named GRB 130427A, was observed by several space- and ground-based telescopes, and the data was analyzed by dozens of astronomers around the world. The Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope was the first to detect the event, and it quickly began monitoring the flood of radiation using its Large Area Telescope (LAT), whose principal investigator is Peter Michelson, a physics professor at Stanford and the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. Michelson leads the international collaboration that built and operates the LAT.

Fermi’s quick action, allowing the LAT to record nearly the entire event, yielded incredible data that revealed previously unknown aspects of the mechanisms involved in a gamma ray burst.

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