Just after 07:47 UTC last Saturday, the Gamma-ray Burst Monitor (GBM) aboard the Fermi satellite triggered on an eruption of high-energy light in the constellation Leo. Click on the image to see an animation showing a more detailed Fermi Large Area Telescope view. GRB 130427A produced the highest-energy light ever detected from gamma ray burst. The sequence shows high-energy (100 MeV to 100 GeV) gamma rays from a 20-degree-wide region of the sky starting three minutes before the burst to 14 hours after. After a one-second spike, the burst’s output remained relatively quiet for the next 15 seconds while Fermi‘s GBM showed bright, variable lower-energy emission. Then the burst re-brightened in the LAT over the next few minutes and remained bright for almost half a day. The record-setting blast of gamma rays came from a dying star in a distant galaxy roughly 3.6 billion light-years away.
Fermi’s Large Area Telescope (LAT) recorded one gamma ray with an energy of at least 94 billion electron volts (GeV), or some 35 billion times the energy of visible light, and about three times greater than any previous GRB. The GeV emission from the burst lasted for several hours, and it remained detectable by the LAT for the most of the day, making it the longest gamma-ray emission from a GRB detected to date.
The burst occurred as NASA’s Swift satellite was slewing between targets, which delayed its Burst Alert Telescope’s (BAT) detection by less than a minute. (The BAT is a wide-angle detector that can quickly determine the bearing to a gamma ray source. I designed the low-noise power regulators that feed the detector array in the BAT.) The burst was detected in optical, infrared and radio wavelengths by ground-based observatories using the rapid, accurate position from Swift.
Swift‘s X-Ray Telescope took this image of GRB 130427A at 07:50 UTC on 27 April, moments after Swift and Fermi triggered on the GRB.
Gamma-ray bursts are the universe’s most luminous explosions. We believe that most occur when massive stars run out of nuclear fuel and collapse under their own weight. As the core collapses into a black hole, jets of material explode outward at almost the speed of light.
Image Credits: NASA