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Cosmic Bullseye!

Submitter: Michael Garrett
Description: The Westerbork Synthesis Radio Telescope (WSRT), together with unparalleled data from satellites and observatories around the globe, show that the jet from the powerful Gamma-ray Burst, GRB08031B (see http://www.astron.nl/dailyimage/main.php?date=20080715) was aimed almost directly at Earth. GRB events are associated with sharp asymmetries that quickly develop in the relativistic outflows that occur when massive stars use up all their nuclear fuel, almost instantaneously collapse and then explode on rebound.

A multi-wavelength analysis of the observations (from the radio to x-rays) have given a team of astronomers (led by Judith Racusin of Penn State University) the most detailed portrait of a GRB ever made. The WSRT observations led by Alexander van der Horst (GSFC), have placed new constraints on the physics of the jet models used to explain the bright and transitory nature of the burst. Several astronomers at ASTRON and JIVE were also involved (Strom, Paragi & Garrett). It is estimated that this GRB was so bright that it would have been briefy observable to the naked-eye, despite the dying star being 7.5 billion light-years away! The results of the observations are published today in Nature.

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Copyright: NASA/Swift/Mary Pat Hrybyk-Keith and John Jones
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