October 18, 2012
The Swift robotic spacecraft was launched into orbit on November 20, 2004 to observe Gamma-ray bursts (GRBs). The project was developed by an international consortium from the United States, United Kingdom and Italy and is managed by the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in California.
Gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) are flashes of gamma rays associated with extremely energetic explosions and they are the brightest electromagnetic events known to occur in the universe.
Most observed GRBs are believed to be the product of dying stars, consisting of narrow beams of intense radiation released during supernovas as rapidly rotating, high-mass stars collapse to form a neutron stars, quark stars, or black holes.
One of the GRBs depicted here hit the Earth directly, but was too distant to have a noticeable effect. However, scientists theorize that in the future a GRB could wipe out much of the life on Earth, which they believe has happened in the past.
It has been hypothesized that a gamma-ray burst within the Milky Way, pointing directly towards the Earth, could cause a mass extinction event on our planet.
Published by Alton Parrish
October 16, 2012
Among the first 500 gamma-ray bursts detected by Swift is GRB 090429B, currently the farthest explosion ever detected and a candidate for the most distant object in the universe.
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center/Swift