Multiple spectral signatures point to black-hole formation

Detailed observations of gamma-ray, x-ray, near-infrared, and optical spectra of the afterglow from a gamma-ray burst detected last fall may help to paint a picture of the universe 13 billion years ago.

Apr 1st, 2006

Detailed observations of gamma-ray, x-ray, near-infrared, and optical spectra of the afterglow from a gamma-ray burst detected last fall may help to paint a picture of the universe 13 billion years ago. The 500-s burst, GRB050904, was detected on Sept. 4, 2005, by telescopes aboard the NASA Swift satellite, operated by Penn State University (University Park, PA). Fully operational since January 2005, Swift carries three main instruments: the Burst Alert Telescope, the ­X-ray Telescope, and the Ultraviolet/Optical Telescope, which ­enable the satellite to do almost immediate follow-up observations of gamma-ray bursts because it can rotate quickly toward the source of the gamma-ray signal.

The burst detected last fall came from a star collapsing into a black hole 13 billion years ago, when the universe was less than 1 billion years old. “This was a massive star that lived fast and died young,” said ­David Burrows, senior scientist and professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State, a coauthor on one of three reports on this observation published in the March 9 ­issue of Nature. “This star was probably quite different from the kind we see today, the type that only could have existed in the early universe.” Contact David Burrows at DavidBurrows@psu.edu.

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