Union College alumnus quoted about recent gamma-ray burst

Avanti Khare, Sci-Tech Editor

On October 9, a beam of light passed by Earth and blinded NASA satellites, according to Space.com. The beam of light came from a gamma-ray burst, the most energetic type of explosion known to occur in the universe. 

This particular gamma-ray burst was more energetic than astronomers have ever seen. Dozens of telescopes all over the world were pointing in the direction of the source of the burst. The event has officially been named GRB221009A. It has earned the nickname BOAT (“brightest of all time”), and astronomers hope that it will help them understand the physics behind gamma-ray bursts.

Brendan O’Connor ‘17 was interviewed by Space.com to provide comments on this phenomenon. He is currently an astronomer at the University of Maryland and George Washington University. 

“Astronomers manage to trace the origin of only about thirty percent of all gamma-ray bursts that skim Earth”, said O’Connor. He was part of a team of astronomers who used the Gemini South telescope in Chile to observe the aftermath of GRB221009A on October 14. Astronomers did find the source of GRB221009A: a galaxy in the constellation Sagitta, also known as the Arrow. Concerningly, the gamma-ray burst occurred much closer to the Earth than most others that have been observed before. Scientists think that a gamma ray burst aimed at our planet from a distance of some thousands of light years would destroy the planet’s protective ozone layers.

Gamma ray bursts are not rare. About once a day, one flashes briefly at our planet from somewhere in the cosmos. Many more are believed to take place throughout the universe. Some gamma ray bursts light up for just a fraction of a second, while others can last for several minutes.