Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A New Old Star

No, this is not another Tom Petty post, though I am always up for that. It has nothing to do with Maine that I know of, and is only news to those who care about the big picture. The biggest picture.

This is about a real star, actually the death of a really old star, the oldest star ever seen. By seen, of course, I mean felt or sensed by a NASA satellite. This object, according to Harvard astrophysicist Edo Berger, is 13 billion light years away and was born moments, astronomically speaking, after the Big Bang. The Big Bang is estimated to have occurred 13.7 billion years ago, so this star's death throes, gamma waves--like the rings 'round a pebble thrown into a still pond--have traveled through the majority of the known universe until rolling over a Gemini observatory last week.

From the SpaceRef.com article, Berger said, "I have been chasing gamma-ray bursts for a decade, trying to find such a spectacular event. We now have the first direct proof that the young universe was teeming with exploding stars and newly-born black holes only a few hundred million years after the Big Bang."

Gamma-ray bursts are the universe's most luminous explosions. Most occur when massive stars run out of nuclear fuel. As their cores collapse into a black hole or neutron star, gas jets, driven by processes not fully understood, punch through the star and blast into space. There, they strike gas previously shed by the star and heat it, which generates short- lived afterglows in other wavelengths.

So last week we saw some ancient afterglow. That's getting to be all some of us can count on.

[H/T to Stan who clued me in to the obvious difference between light years and years. D'oh!]


Anonymous said...


I know why you are an extrovert,
gathering lost sheep even as satellites spin like stray viruses and gamma waves roll through dark space like some forgotten dream, the beginning and the end.

Let us huddle together in caves called Facebook and Twitter and Talking Points sending out our signals. Who's out there?

Dark star, the memory of light ripples outward long after the wick has sizzled and smoked.

It is not because there are so few stars in the heavens, nor because the fragile web of humanity could unravel at any moment, though that is part of it, that you are an extrovert.

It is because all of this is beautiful and you don't know how.

snoozetska said...

You say that like it's a bad thing.

Anonymous said...

How so? I see you are an English teacher; yet you find this reaching for something indefinable a bad thing?

snoozetska said...


I attempted to say that I thought you were saying my lack of knowing is a bad thing.

Remember? I'm the fan of not knowing.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps science is like poetry in the sense that Wallace Stevens said it can only bring one to the gates of the great mystery. I'm wondering if not knowing or not needing to know and mystery are the same thing? It seems to me the more one knows the more mystery must increase

Anonymous said...

The hour has grown late. Perhaps we might continue the discussion another day...