THE MYSTERIOUS GAMMA RAY BURSTS
One of astronomy's most baffling
mysteries is the undiscovered source of sudden, intense bursts of gamma
rays. The Compton Observatory typically detects one burst a day. The bursts
differ greatly in duration and appear randomly from any direction. They
are not known to repeat.
Amazingly, once a burst fades away, no trace of it remains. No known
object has yet been linked with any gamma-ray burst.
A Serendipitous Discovery
Gamma-ray bursts were first recorded accidently in 1967 by the Vela
satellites. These satellites were developed to look for clandestine
nuclear tests by searching for telltale x-rays or gamma rays emitted from
nuclear explosions. But the gamma-ray
bursts the satellite discovered came from deep space.
Astronomers expected to associate the locations of the bursts with known
stars or galaxies. But despite many observations by many different
telescopes, no such identification has ever been made.
The Compton Observatory's Burst
and Transient Source Experiment--BATSE--was specifically designed to
investigate gamma-ray bursts. The eight large detectors located at the
corners of the spacecraft allow BATSE to monitor the entire sky continuously.
Strange Stars or Cosmic Collisions?
Many theories have been advanced to explain the distribution and origin
of the bursts, but none answers all the questions the bursts pose. Some
scientists say the sources of the bursts are relatively close, and others
say they are some of the most distant objects in the known universe.
Gamma-ray bursts may come from relatively nearby, perhaps from
a spherical "cloud" of neutron stars that could surround our own Milky
(Courtesy of the National Air and Space Museum)
Other theories propose that the bursts emanate from the outer
reaches of the observable universe, perhaps from violent collisions between
neutron stars and black holes.
(Courtesy of R. Windhorst (ASU) and NASA)
A service of the Laboratory for High Energy Astrophysics at
Goddard Space Flight Center
Technical Rep: Jay Norris
Web Curator: J.D. Myers
Viewing The Violent Universe was created by
Joslyn Schoemer, Stephanie Leitner and Tom Chi.
Questions and comments may be sent to Joslyn Schoemer at