Hubble studies gamma-ray burst with highest energy ever seen

NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

New observations from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have investigated the nature of the powerful gamma-ray burst GRB 190114C by studying its environment. Shown in this illustration, gamma-ray bursts are the most powerful explosions in the universe. They emit most of their energy in gamma rays, light which is much more energetic than the visible light we can see with our eyes. Hubble's observations suggest that this particular burst displayed such powerful emission because the collapsing star was sitting in a very dense environment, right in the middle of a bright galaxy 5 billion light years away. Credit: NASA, ESA and M. Kornmesser

New observations from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have investigated the nature of the powerful gamma-ray burst GRB 190114C by studying its environment. Shown in this illustration, gamma-ray bursts are the most powerful explosions in the universe. They emit most of their energy in gamma rays, light which is much more energetic than the visible light we can see with our eyes. Hubble’s observations suggest that this particular burst displayed such powerful emission because the collapsing star was sitting in a very dense environment, right in the middle of a bright galaxy 5 billion light years away. Credit: NASA, ESA and M. Kornmesser

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has given astronomers a peek at the location of the most energetic outburst ever seen in the universe — a blast of gamma-rays a trillion times more powerful than visible light. That’s because in a few seconds the gamma-ray burst (GRB) emitted more energy than the Sun will provide over its entire 10-billion year life.

In January 2019, an extremely bright and long-duration GRB was detected by a suite of telescopes, including NASA’s Swift and Fermi telescopes, as well as by the Major Atmospheric Gamma Imaging Cherenkov (MAGIC) telescopes on the Canary islands. Follow-up observations were made with Hubble to study the environment around the GRB and find out how this extreme emission is produced.

“Hubble’s observations suggest that this particular burst was sitting in a very dense environment, right in the middle of a bright galaxy 5 billion light years away. This is really unusual, and suggests that this concentrated location might be why it produced this exceptionally powerful light,” explained one of the lead authors, Andrew Levan of the Institute for Mathematics, Astrophysics and Particle Physics Department of Astrophysics at Radboud University in the Netherlands.

“Scientists have been trying to observe very high energy emission from gamma-ray bursts for a long time,” explained lead author Antonio de Ugarte Postigo of the Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía in Spain. “This new Hubble observation of accompanying lower-energy radiation from the region is a vital step in our understanding of gamma-ray bursts [and] their immediate surroundings.”

The complementary Hubble observations reveal that the GRB occurred within the central region of a massive galaxy. Researchers say that this is a denser environment than typically observed (for GRBs) and could have been crucial for the generation of the very-high-energy radiation that was observed. The host galaxy of the GRB is actually one of a pair of colliding galaxies. The galaxy interactions may have contributed to spawning the outburst.

Known as GRB 190114C, some of the radiation detected from the object had the highest energy ever observed. Scientists have been trying to observe such very high energy emission from GRBs for a long time, so this detection is considered a milestone in high-energy astrophysics, say researchers.

Previous observations revealed that to achieve this energy, material must be emitted from a collapsing star at 99.999% the speed of light. This material is then forced through the gas that surrounds the star, causing a shock that creates the gamma-ray burst itself.

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80 thoughts on “Hubble studies gamma-ray burst with highest energy ever seen

  1. The host galaxy of the GRB is actually one of a pair of colliding galaxies. The galaxy interactions may have contributed to spawning the outburst.

    Colliding galaxies contributed to the local density requires for this exceptionally high energy event.

    This is a foretaste of what we can expect in 4-5 billion years time when the Andromeda galaxy collides with our own Milky Way galaxy.

    This impending collision is a consequence of human CO2 emissions, according to NASA space expert Paul Ehrlich.

    • Phil,

      The remark about C02 emissions and the collision of galaxies was a cheap shot but enjoyable as hell.

      Thanks.

    • According to SciChan show “How the Universe Works” Edwin Hubble determined that all the galaxies are moving away from each other at at a constant rate which is now called the Hubble Constant. Ok, so then how is it possible for galaxies to collide with each other? Is something wrong with astrophysics or am I just stupid?

      • Rick, spacetime is indeed expanding everywhere as you note but in regions where mass density is high enough gravity dominates and material bodies can accelerate towards each other. This applies not only to the Milky Way and Andromeda but the whole local Galaxy cluster.

      • The Hubble constant is actually misnamed, it varies a bit depending on the age of the universe, about which there are conflicting calculations.

      • The universe is expanding and pulling large objects away from each other but they still have specific individual velocities. Individual galaxies are moving in random directions which can cause them to collide. Think of traffic moving in the same direction but slightly different speeds and lane changes can result in collisions.

  2. Some folks think gamma ray bursts have been responsible for extinction events. link The good news is that some life survived which is why we’re here.

  3. This is not news. Information Age, so many new sensors, all this information about something that Never Happened Before, except it did, who knows how many times before, but Now, we have More Information.

    Same with the Ice data, started in 1979. Never Happened Before in the last 40 years. What exactly was it doing for the 4.5 Billion Years before 1979? Who knows?

    My other pet peeve has become Hurricanes. Comparing modern hurricanes, with wind speeds measured with the un-calibrated instruments flying on the Hurricane Hunters from NOAA, to previous hurricanes, with wind speeds measured on the ground with simple anemometers, lets the media lie through their teeth, lie like rugs.

    the media like Data that they can use to promote the Theme of AGW, but none of it can be shown with rigorous science.

    • That hurricane wind speed garbage really gets to me. The radar they use now is known to give high readings and they are getting vastly more data points than before. A reasonable man would make some sort of adjustment for comparison to historical data based on sampling or at least disclose the changes in statistics, but instead we get storms being overrated (by comparison) based on sampling changes.

      When someone says “this ain’t your daddy’s hurricane,” they really mean it.

      • This can easily be highlighted by seeing the damage of a modern hurricane. We are told that Hurricane X is a category 4, but the damage is only representative of a category 2. e.g. look at hurricane Dorian this year that hit the Bahamas. It caused a lot of damage, but the damage was not representative of a category 5 hurricane. The definition of a CAT5 hurricane is that even well built homes should be almost completely destroyed (including wall collapse). The damage in the Bahamas appeared to be closer to CAT3 or CAT4.

        https://www.nhc.noaa.gov/aboutsshws.php

        The strange wind speeds of the categories was selected based on damage levels (not based on anything special about those speeds). So now that they measure wind speed more accurately, it creates a high speed bias compared to older measurements. They really need to re-select the wind speeds, again based on damage levels, using the new wind speed measurement methods.

        Wind speeds may be more accurate now days (or maybe not), but the main point is that they are not comparable to the wind speeds measured in hurricanes of old.

        • The fact is the damage in the Eastern Bahamas was nearly total, and thus fully consistent with a Cat 5 cyclonic storm.

          The other factor you’re ignoring is that the structural building materials available, quality, design and bracing techniques for cyclonic storms are vastly better now than when Saffir-Simpson was defined.

          Any suggestion this video is not consistent with Cat-5 level damage at Marsh Harbor is utter nonsense:
          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DV-PLJq4HD4

          Definition of Cat-5
          “Catastrophic damage will occur: A high percentage of framed homes will be destroyed, with total roof failure and wall collapse. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last for weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.”
          https://www.nhc.noaa.gov/aboutsshws.php

          Dorian provided a textbook example of Cat 5 levels of damage.

          The further notion that hurricane-hunter aircraft operators won’t or don’t know how to get a competent test and re-calibration of a Doppler radar, is frankly ridiculous.

    • BTW, most of the post-1960s hurricane measurements were made with dropsondes which did increase the sampling density, but not as much as the current radar system.

    • Ummm…. agreed, but irrelevant to the article.

      This is about finally catching elusive data; not comparing different qualities of data and proclaiming a change in conditions to account for it.

      • It should be about this – that is, it should be about the advances in astrophysics and astronomy that led to this first observation. Michael Moon is right that we tend to frame scientific discoveries as “first ever” occurrence. They are just the first time we have seen them.

        Many firsts reported on WUWT might feel more satisfying if they delved a bit into the tools and history that led to the discoveries. Rather than an artist’s illustration, what markers of the event were actually observed? How is it that we happened to be aiming the “suite of telescopes” in precisely the right direction to capture this two-second event?

    • Wind speeds? Don’t need no stinkin’ wind speed measuring devices, in planes or on the ground. We can just infer it from the maximum differences in air pressure.

      At least one storm this season was declared a hurricane not on any measurement of windspeed, but because of expected wind speeds based on the pressure gradient.

      Well, ok, but don’t try to compare the number of hurricanes today with the numbers recorded in the past.

      • And how many hurricanes were never even spotted because they never made land fall or like most hurricanes where much stronger prior to reaching the coast and so we don’t have any idea how strong they were at some point in their life span?

  4. Which direction should I point the solar panels tonight as I’m on the original FIT scheme and I want to hit the jackpot.

  5. With all of this energy flying around in Space, perhaps we should have another look at Fred Hoyles “”Steady State Theory”” for the formation of stars in the Universe. A, far better than the fairy tale theory of the Big Bank.

    MJE VK5ELL

    • Ah… 1+1=horse?

      As for steady state, there’s that pesky thing called entropy. Also, nothing bothers most cosmologists quite as much as the Big Bang, and ever since Lemaitre proposed it, they have tried their best to discard it by any means possible and impossible. If there was a valid way to have a working steady state universe, it would be embraced with gusto.

  6. Matilda’s science experiment is designed to show how small amounts of gamma radiation from cobalt-60 affect marigolds; some die, but others transform into strange but beautiful mutations completely unlike the original plants.

    Wanted to include this in my original post above about this film:
    The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds (film)

    – JPP

    • Jon P

      The issue is whether the marigolds mutated (evolved) into something new, or they were just damaged. According to the “radiation equals evolutionary jump” meme, radiation causes new species to emerge, not just damaging DAN causing the expression of genes of that plant to be altered.

      Unless there is full scale technicolour Lamarkism at work, such damage is not passed along to progeny, correct? While some basic Lamarkism has been demonstrated (in 1983) the damaging of the DNA of some organism is not the same as mutated-meaning-altered result. I think the idea was that radiation causes burps of evolution – a jump along the timeline. I don’t think there is and proposed mechanism for such evolutionary steps. All that was demonstrated so far was the ability to use energetic particles to punch holes in DNA causing death or warping and or cancer.

      It is a very interesting subject. Perhaps we can find a practical use for radiation other than destroying cancer cells by blasting the daylights out of them.

      • Mutations in germ lines are passed on. Please see my links above. And of course in unicells, daughter cells inherit the mutations.

        Mutations, from whatever cause, are a major source of raw material for evolution.

      • Radiation has long been used to produce new garden and crop plant varieties.

        Please see the atomic gardening link.

  7. Wow! These types of natural radiation are quite spectacular. Gamma Rays, and their other name Cosmic Rays, slice through the Universe in irregular fashion. The Pierre Auger Observatory in Malargüe, Argentina, has 500 detectors spread out over a large area to detect the very high energy cosmic rays as they collide with the atmosphere. These rays have the energy of 1 to the 18 power electron volts and higher, and produce a visible flash and a shower of secondary effects when they finally collide with a nucleus in the atmosphere. The energy level of the detected gamma rays would be sufficient to bake the cookies of any space traveler.

    • “Gamma Rays, and their other name Cosmic Rays”
      There is fundamental physical difference, and shouldn’t be conflated.
      Cosmic rays are particles, mainly high-energy protons and nuclei of atoms which are striped of the electrons, with velocity approaching the speed of light.
      Gamma rays, are class of electromagnetic radiation with the shortest wavelength, originating during the radioactive decay of atoms’ nuclei. They are photons of the highest known energy propagating at the speed of light.

      • Galactic cosmic “rays” also cause mutations. Their energy is higher than that of the similar solar wind.

  8. From the article: “That’s because in a few seconds the gamma-ray burst (GRB) emitted more energy than the Sun will provide over its entire 10-billion year life.”

    That’s mind-boggling!!!

  9. It’s obvious that these bursts are the detectable emissions from alien superweapons, sort of like the blast of radiation that happens when we detonate a nuclear weapon.

    It seems that there are intergalactic wars going on all around us and the aliens are blasting each other to smithereens at a merry clip. It’s a good thing none of them have stumbled across our backward corner of the cosmos yet.

    • An alien civilization capable of harnessing and unleashing the powers evidenced by these gamma ray bursts would:

      – be so unbelievably powerful so as to not need to squabble over… well just about anything. At this level, terraforming entire planets is likely a hobby for the poor.

      – have precision weapons that could merely vaporize planets, instead of blasting multiple cubic parsecs to cinders.

      – not have enemies anymore.

  10. I think the ‘science communicator’ who wrote this could use some help. Some statements seem devoid of meaning.

    “a blast of gamma-rays a trillion times more powerful than visible light.” “some of the radiation detected from the object had the highest energy ever observed.”

    These statements don’t seem to be completed thoughts.

  11. “in a few seconds the gamma-ray burst (GRB) emitted more energy than the Sun will provide over its entire 10-billion year life”

    And then the burst ends after a few seconds because it runs out of fuel at that rate! Peak fusion!

  12. gamma-ray burst with highest energy ever seen
    ===========
    clearly worse than we thought. if we don’t get rid of CO2 the Universe is going to end in 12 years.

  13. Obviously, we need to elect a socialist government to protect us from gamma ray bursts originating in that distant galaxy

  14. So, the light took 5 billion years to get to our detectors.
    Where exactly is the edge of our “universe”, we caught the light of a fully formed galaxy as it existed 5 billion years ago.
    How long did it take to form ?

  15. Since this event is roughly 5 billion light years away… does that mean that it happened 5 billion years ago and we’re just seeing it now? Not being a smart ass… I really want to know,

  16. SHORT STORY

    “We’ve figured out what causes them!” he spoke to the bored conference audience. They snapped to attention quickly. Continuing, “It happens whenever any advanced civilization builds one of these….” Takes a strangely shaped device from a personal pouch and holds it aloft.

    There is a murmur from the crowd. “During the building of this prototype, we have—” and a tentacle fumbles for a moment, and it drops to the floor.

    SIX HUNDRED MILLION YEARS LATER, IN A GALAXY FAR FAR AWAY

    Astronomers have detected another massive gamma burst, and have finally gathered enough data to pose a solid theory explaining what might cause them.

    THE END

  17. “Dr.Banner was belted by Gamma Rays(during a grand Solar Minimum) –turned into the Hulk”.
    Everyone knows that

  18. Does anyone else find it odd that we don’t know what causes them, we have trouble studying them and they defy the Standard Model of Cosmology and yet they say stuff like – “material must be emitted from a collapsing star at 99.999% the speed of light. This material is then forced through the gas that surrounds the star”?

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