Batse Burst Maps
Credit: NASA/CGRO Batse Team

The Bursting Universe

Surprisingly powerful explosions rock the Universe. These explosions can be so powerful that the total brightness of the Universe varies by large amounts over short times - by factors of two over days! Another surprise is that these explosions are not rare - they occur a few times per week. These incredibly large explosions are known as "gamma ray bursts", since they were first discovered by Gamma ray satellites (space-based detectors sensitive to gamma rays, the most energetic form of electromagnetic radiation) more than 25 years ago. When these gamma-ray bursts were discovered, it was thought by many scientists that they were nearby, probably in our galaxy, since otherwise the amount of energy released would be unbelievably large. The most detailed study of gamma ray bursts was obtained by the Burst and Transient Source Experiment (BATSE) on the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory (CGRO). During its 9 year lifetime (1991-2000) BATSE detected more than 2700 gamma ray bursts. The image above shows the location of all these bursts on the sky, color coded to show the brightness of the burst (the brightest bursts are shown as red dots, the faintest as purple dots). A startling result of the BATSE observations is that the bursts seem to be distributed over the entire sky, indicating that the burst sources are not associated with our galaxy. New evidence suggests that gamma ray bursts are actually associated with distant galaxies.

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Page Author: Dr. Michael F. Corcoran
Last modified January 22, 2001