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.
Gamma-ray bursts are the most luminous explosions in the cosmos, thought to be triggered when the core of a massive star runs out of nuclear fuel, collapses under its own weight, and forms a black hole. The black hole then drives jets of particles that drill all the way through the collapsing star and erupt into space at nearly the speed of light.
The Gamma-ray Burst Monitor (GBM) aboard NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope captured the initial wave of gamma rays from GRB 130427A shortly after 3:47 am EDT April 27. In its first three seconds alone, the "monster burst" proved brighter than almost any burst previously observed.
Telescopes operated by Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico as part of the Rapid Telescopes for Optical Response (RAPTOR) Project quickly turned to the spot. They detected an optical flash that peaked at magnitude 7 on the astronomical brightness scale, easily visible through binoculars. It is the second-brightest flash ever seen from a gamma-ray burst.
Just as the optical flash peaked, Fermi's Large Area Telescope (LAT) detected a spike in GeV gamma-rays reaching 95 GeV, the most energetic light ever seen from a burst. This relationship between a burst's optical light and its high-energy gamma-rays defied expectations.
Read the full story on NASA's website.