Ondřejov observatory records nine billion-year-old gamma-ray burst

Gamma-ray burst GRB 130427A, photo: NASA

Czech astronomers at Ondřejov observatory southeast of Prague, have revealed the Czech observatory was recently the first terrestrial station to record a gamma-ray burst from a hypernova explosion nine billion light-years away. In less than a minute, automated telescopes at Ondřejov turned their sights to the area in question.

Gamma-ray burst GRB 130427A,  photo: NASA
It’s another first for Czech astronomers in recent weeks: after successfully mapping the path of the Chelyabinsk meteor, now they have been able to record a gamma-ray burst nine billion light-years away. Forty-one seconds after the flash was registered by NASA’s Swift satellite (a multi-wavelength space observatory) in late October, automated telescopes at Ondřejov kicked in, recording the first images here. Astronomer Jan Štrobl:

“We were successful and both telescopes responded at once which is fantastic and almost a miracle. It is the first time we recorded such an event with two telescopes and in this case we were the first in the world.”

One of the telescopes at Ondřejov observatory,  photo: archive of Ondřejov observatory
Gamma-ray bursts are released as stars collapse into a black hole, ejecting radiation which travels across the universe at the speed of light. In this case, it took nine billion light-years to arrive. The energy released by a hypernova explosion in mere seconds or dozens of seconds is the equivalent of all the energy ever expended during the life of our own sun. Astronomers know of no other event as bright as a gamma-ray explosion, except for one. Jan Štrobl again:

“Gamma-ray bursts are the greatest in the universe outside of the Big Bang itself, at the very edge of our understanding of physics.”

The telescopes and astronomers at Ondřejov, in international cooperation, will soon have another object to focus on which seems assured to make headlines again – the sun-grazing Comet Ison, which should be visible from December 5 onwards, even to the naked eye. It will pass closest to the Earth on December 26th – just after Christmas.