Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Matter Flashed at Ultra Speed

13.06.2007
Robotic Telescope Measures Speed of Material Ejected in Cosmic Death

Using a robotic telescope at the ESO La Silla Observatory, astronomers have for the first time measured the velocity of the explosions known as gamma-ray bursts. The material is travelling at the extraordinary speed of more than 99.999% of the velocity of light, the maximum speed limit in the Universe.

"With the development of fast-slewing ground-based telescopes such as the 0.6-m REM telescope at ESO La Silla, we can now study in great detail the very first moments following these cosmic catastrophes," says Emilio Molinari, leader of the team that made the discovery.

Gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) are powerful explosions occurring in distant galaxies, that often signal the death of stars. They are so bright that, for a brief moment, they almost rival the whole Universe in luminosity. They last, however, for only a very short time, from less than a second to a few minutes. Astronomers have long known that, in order to emit such incredible power in so little time, the exploding material must be moving at a speed comparable with that of light, namely 300 000 km per second. By studying the temporal evolution of the burst luminosity, it has now been possible for the first time to precisely measure this velocity.

Gamma-ray bursts, which are unseen by our eyes, are discovered by artificial satellites. The collision of the gamma-ray burst jets into the surrounding gas generates an afterglow visible in the optical and near-infrared that can radiate for several weeks. An array of robotic telescopes were built on the ground, ready to catch this vanishing emission (see e.g. ESO 17/07). On 18 April and 7 June 2006, the NASA/PPARC/ASI Swift satellite detected two bright gamma-ray bursts. In a matter of a few seconds, their position was transmitted to the ground, and the REM telescope began automatically to observe the two GRB fields, detecting the near-infrared afterglows, and monitored the evolution of their luminosity as a function of time (the light curve). The small size of the telescope is compensated by its rapidity of slewing, which allowed astronomers to begin observations very soon after each GRB's detection (39 and 41 seconds after the alert, respectively), and to monitor the very early stages of their light curve.

The two gamma-ray bursts were located 9.3 and 11.5 billion light-years away, respectively.

For both events, the afterglow light curve initially rose, then reached a peak, and eventually started to decline, as is typical of GRB afterglows. The peak is, however, only rarely detected. Its determination is very important, since it allows a direct measurement of the expansion velocity of the explosion of the material. For both bursts, the velocity turns out to be very close to the speed of light, precisely 99.9997% of this value. Scientists use a special number, called the Lorentz factor, to express these high velocities. Objects moving much slower than light have a Lorentz factor of about 1, while for the two GRBs it is about 400.

"Matter is thus moving with a speed that is only different from that of light by three parts in a million," says Stefano Covino, co-author of the study. "While single particles in the Universe can be accelerated to still larger velocities - i.e. much larger Lorentz factors - one has to realise that in the present cases, it is the equivalent of about 200 times the mass of the Earth that acquired this incredible speed."

"You certainly wouldn't like to be in the way," adds team member Susanna Vergani.

The measurement of the Lorentz factor is an important step in understanding gamma-ray burst explosions. This is in fact one of the fundamental parameters of the theory which tries to explain these gigantic explosions, and up to now it was only poorly determined.

"The next question is which kind of 'engine' can accelerate matter to such enormous speeds," says Covino.

Henri Boffin | alfa
Further information:
http://www.eso.org/public/outreach/press-rel/pr-2007/phot-26-07.html

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Further Improvement of Qubit Lifetime for Quantum Computers
09.12.2016 | Forschungszentrum Jülich

nachricht Electron highway inside crystal
09.12.2016 | Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Electron highway inside crystal

Physicists of the University of Würzburg have made an astonishing discovery in a specific type of topological insulators. The effect is due to the structure of the materials used. The researchers have now published their work in the journal Science.

Topological insulators are currently the hot topic in physics according to the newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung. Only a few weeks ago, their importance was...

Im Focus: Significantly more productivity in USP lasers

In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.

Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...

Im Focus: Shape matters when light meets atom

Mapping the interaction of a single atom with a single photon may inform design of quantum devices

Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

Researchers identify potentially druggable mutant p53 proteins that promote cancer growth

09.12.2016 | Life Sciences

Scientists produce a new roadmap for guiding development & conservation in the Amazon

09.12.2016 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation

Satellites, airport visibility readings shed light on troops' exposure to air pollution

09.12.2016 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>