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Saint Michael’s Astronomer John O’meara Identifies Gamma Ray Burst

Saint Michael’s astronomer, assistant professor of physics, Dr. John O'Meara and two collaborators were the first to identify the distance to a gamma ray burst on the night of August 13, 2010, using a telescope in Chile.

Dr. O'Meara was at the Magellan telescope at Las Campanas Observatory when he was contacted by collaborators Hsiao-Wen Chen of the University of Chicago and J. Xavier Prochaska of the University of California, San Diego and informed that NASA's SWIFT satellite had identified a candidate gamma ray burst.

“These are exciting events,” said Dr. O'Meara. “When a candidate burst is detected by satellites, telescopes all over the world race to see who can identify if it is indeed a gamma ray burst, and to obtain information like its brightness and distance—this time, our team came out on top." Dr. O’Meara said.

Dr. O'Meara used a spectrograph on the telescope shortly after the gamma ray burst to determine that it occurred nearly 9.5 billion years ago.

“These are some of the most distant objects we can see. And also some of the most poorly understood,” the astronomer said. “It's great to be one of the lucky ones who happens to be on the telescope at just the right time!” he added.

Submitted findings to NASA’s Gamma Ray Burst Coordinates Network
Dr. O'Meara and collaborators submitted their findings to NASA’s Gamma Ray Burst Coordinates Network, and will continue to analyze their data in detail from Saint Michael’s College, the University of Chicago, and UC, San Diego, as they communicate electronically.

According to the Las Campanas Observatory website, “The twin 6.5-meter Magellan telescopes are widely considered to be the best natural imaging telescopes in the world. They were built and continue to be operated by a consortium consisting of the Carnegie institution of Washington, Harvard, MIT, and the Universities of Michigan and Arizona. The telescopes are located at Carnegie's Las Campanas Observatory, high in the southern reaches of Chile's Atacama Desert. First light for the Walter Baade telescope occurred on September 15, 2000. The Landon Clay telescope started science operations on September 7, 2002.”

Dr. O'Meara is a resident of Essex Junction, Vt. His overall research interests include, among other areas, “Big Bang nucleosynthesis and light element abundances, Lyman limit and damped Lyman alpha systems, astrophysical properties of quasar absorption line systems, and galaxy-intergalactic medium interactions.”

Learn What Matters at Saint Michael’s College, The Edmundite Catholic liberal arts college, . Saint Michael’s provides education with a social conscience, producing graduates with the intellectual tools to lead successful, purposeful lives that will contribute to peace and justice in our world. Founded in 1904 by the Society of St. Edmund and headed by President John J. Neuhauser, Saint Michael’s College is located three miles from Burlington, Vermont, one of America’s top college towns. It is identified by the Princeton Review as one of the nations Best 371 Colleges, and is included in the 2011 Fiske Guide to Colleges. Saint Michael’s is one of only 280 colleges and universities nationwide, one of only 20 Catholic colleges, with a Phi Beta Kappa chapter. Saint Michael’s has 1,900 undergraduate students, some 500 graduate students and 100 international students. Saint Michael’s students and professors have received Rhodes, Woodrow Wilson, Pickering, Guggenheim, Fulbright, and other grants. The college is one of the nation’s Best Liberal Arts Colleges as listed in the 2009 U.S. News & World Report rankings.

Professor John O'Meara, Saint Michael's College,
phone: 802-654-2000
or PR office 802-654-2536

Buff Lindau | Newswise Science News
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