Offbeat

How Scientists Discovered the Oldest Object Ever Seen in the Universe

A star, which exploded some 13 billion years ago, has recently been discovered by scientists.

Viewed by a gamma ray burst, this star was 30 to 100 times larger than our own sun! What does this 10-second eruption of energy mean? Read on for some answers, but perhaps even more questions.

star How Scientists Discovered the Oldest Object Ever Seen in the Universe

According to Harvard University assistant professor of astronomy, Edo Berger:

The star that exploded was 30 to 100 times larger than our own sun, and when it died it gave off about million times the amount of energy the sun will release in its entire lifetime. Its death throes produced so much energy that momentarily, we can essentially see it anywhere in the universe.”

The meaning behind the explosion is mind-boggling because it represents an occurrence that happened when the universe was only 600 million years old, or as Berger so scientifically put it, “looking 95 percent of the way back to the beginning of time.”

The enormous star of some 13 billion years ago is the oldest thing ever spotted in the universe. Known as GRB 090423, the object is at least 200 million years older than the previous record-holder. A NASA satellite named Swift identified the gamma radiation, which took a mere 13 billion years to reach Earth (talk about patience).

gamma How Scientists Discovered the Oldest Object Ever Seen in the Universe

What exactly are gamma-ray bursts (GRBs)? They refer to short-lived bursts of the most energetic form of light, known as gamma-ray photons. Some, but not all, denote the deaths massive stars. A gamma-ray burst can last anywhere from a few mili-seconds to several minutes and they are known to shine about a million trillion times as bright as the Sun. GRBs are not uncommon and are often detected in the sky.

Despite the frequency of their occurrences, GRB’s were until recently considered a big astronomical mystery. They were discovered serendipitously in the late 1960s by U.S. military satellites, which were on the look out for Soviet nuclear testing in violation of the atmospheric nuclear test ban treaty.

These satellites carried gamma ray detectors since a nuclear explosion produces gamma rays. As recently as the early 1990s, astronomers didn’t even know if GRBs originated at the edge of our solar system, in our Milky Way Galaxy or incredibly far away near the edge of the observable Universe.

It is the expansion of knowledge, this breakthrough into unknown perimeters that is so fascinating to scientists. Now there is solid proof that massive stars existed 600 million years after the universe was formed. Even though this has always been suspected, now scientists know for sure, a giant step in understanding the evolution of the universe.

All you stars and galaxies out there beware! We just may find you…all of you!

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