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Gamma Ray Bursts - Windows to the Universe

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The locations of all 2704 Gamma Ray Bursts detected by BATSE in the 9 year mission.
Click on image for full size
NASA, Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, BATSE Team

Gamma Ray Bursts - The Most Powerful Objects in the Universe?

In the 1960's, the United States launched some satellites to look for very high energy light, called Gamma Rays. Gamma Rays are produced whenever a nuclear bomb explodes. The satellites found many bursts of Gamma Rays, but they were not coming from explosions on Earth. They were coming from outer space.

Modern satellites have found thousands of these Gamma Ray Bursts. They happen about once a day and come from all over the sky, as the map shows. There are two types of bursts. Some are short, lasting less than 2 seconds. Others are longer, bursting for as long as 1000 seconds. We now think that all Gamma Ray Bursts come from the creation of black holes in distant galaxies. The two types of bursts come from two different ways to make a black hole.

Short Gamma Ray Bursts come from two neutron stars orbiting each other. They slowly lose energy and merge together to form a black hole. The gamma rays come from debris falling into the black hole.

Long Gamma Ray Bursts come from the deaths of very massive stars. At the end of their lives, these stars collapse and explode as a type of supernova. The gamma rays shoot out along jets from these powerful explosions.

Last modified December 14, 2005 by Travis Metcalfe.

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF