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GRB Lights Up Ancient Hidden Galaxy

This artist’s illustration depicts a gamma-ray burst illuminating clouds of interstellar gas in its host galaxy. By analyzing a recent gamma-ray burst, astronomers were able to learn about the chemistry of a galaxy 12.7 billion light-years from Earth. They discovered it contains only one-tenth of the heavy elements (metals) found in our solar system. Image Credit: Gemini Observatory/AURA, artwork by Lynette Cook

This artist’s illustration depicts a gamma-ray burst illuminating clouds of interstellar gas in its host galaxy. By analyzing a recent gamma-ray burst, astronomers were able to learn about the chemistry of a galaxy 12.7 billion light-years from Earth. They discovered it contains only one-tenth of the heavy elements (metals) found in our solar system.

Image Credit: Gemini Observatory/AURA, artwork by Lynette Cook

More than 12.7 billion years ago, a star exploded, sending its remains in twin jets which traveled through space at nearly the speed of light. During the star's death, it shined a million times brighter than its entire galaxy. This flash of light reached the Earth's current location before our planet had even formed.  Astronomers were able to study this light and determine that it came from a galaxy that was too small, too faint and too far to be detected by the Hubble Space Telescope.   

“This star lived at a very interesting time, the so-called dark ages just a billion years after the Big Bang,” says lead author Ryan Chornock of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA). “In a sense, we’re forensic scientists investigating the death of a star and the life of a galaxy in the earliest phases of cosmic time,” he adds.

When this star died, it caused one of the most frightening things in astronomy… a gamma-ray burst (GRB) that lasted more than four minutes.  After a journey that lasted centuries, the light reached our little corner of the Universe and was detected by NASA’s Swift spacecraft on June 6th. Chornock and his team quickly arranged follow-up observations by the MMT Telescope in Arizona and the Gemini North telescope in Hawaii.

Read the full story on the Universe Today website.  

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