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Extreme Universe: The most distant object known! April 28, 2009

Posted by jcconwell in Extreme Universe, Gamma Ray Bursts.
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On April 23, 2009, the Swift satellite detected that explosion. This spectacular gamma ray burst was seen 13 billion light years away, with a redshift of z = 8.2, the highest ever measured.

Combined X-ray, UV image from Swift

Combined X-ray, UV image from Swift

The cataclysmic explosion of a giant star early in the history of the Universe is the most distant single object ever detected by telescopes.

The colossal blast was picked up first by Nasa’s Swift space observatory which is tuned to see the high-energy gamma-rays emitted from extreme events. Other telescopes then followed up the signal, confirming the source to be more 13 billion light-years away. Scientists say the star’s destruction probably resulted in a black hole.

“This gets us into a realm where we’ve never been before,” said Nial Tanvir, of the University of Leicester, UK.  This is the most remote gamma-ray burst (GRB) ever detected, and also the most distant object ever discovered.”

“We completely smashed the record with this one,” said Edo Berger, a professor at Harvard University and a member of the team that first measured the burst’s origin. “This demonstrates for the first time that massive stars existed in the early Universe.”

GRB 090423 Infrared afterglow as seen by Gemini North

GRB 090423 Infrared afterglow as seen by Gemini North

The burst occurred some 13.1 billion years ago, or perhaps a bit more accurate, when the Universe was only 630 million years old, a mere one-twentieth of its current age. Astronomers like to use age rather than distance because when you get this close to the big bang, there are three ways (at least) of referring to distance.

There is a Luminosity distance which ASSUMES  a 1/ (distance squared) law, which works when the space in between in FLAT.

There is the way that you’ll see it referred to in the press, most of the time, since the light has been traveling for 13.1 billion years, the distance is 13.1 billion light-years. Not wrong, but it assumes no expansion.

Then there is….sound of can opener, opening up can of worms….

the proper distance… the distance you would measure if you could take into account all the extra real-estate the universe has added for 13.1 billion years, the expansion of the universe.

To give a little background in redshift and cosmology, a redshift is an increase in the wavelength of the light. There are three types of redshift. The first is Doppler caused by the motion of the source away from the observer. The second is a gravitational redshift caused by light climbing out from a strong gravitational field, like a black hole or neutron star. The third is what we see here the cosmological redshift, caused by the expansion of the universe.

All three are measured by a number called z. This number is the fractional change in the wavelength of the light, or

z = (λ-λ0)/λ0

Where λ0 is the wavelength emitted from far away and λ is what we see in our telescope. The new gamma ray burst had a z = 8.2, meaning an ultraviolet line of Hydrogen emitted at 121 nm. would be shifted all the way down to infrared at 996 nm, (visible is between 750 nm and 380 nm)

Now in cosmology, General Relativity gives a relation between the AGE  of the object, since the big bang, with t=o as the moment of the big bang and its redshift z. Using a model of the expansion of the universe, redshift can be related to the age of an observed object, the so-called cosmic time–redshift relation. This depends on the shape and density of the universe, if we denote a density ratio as Ω0:

\Omega_0 = \frac {\rho}{ \rho_{crit}} \ ,

with ρcrit the critical density dividing a universe that eventually crunches from one that simply expands. This density is about three hydrogen atoms per cubic meter of space. At large redshifts one finds, with H0 as the Hubble constant at the present time:

 t(z) = \frac {2}{3 H_0 {\Omega_0}^{1/2} (1+ z )^{3/2}} \ ,

But finding the distance is a little more complicated.

Picture walking along a sidewalk to your friends house one block away. Now if you had a insane  construction crew adding sidewalk as you were walking, by the time you got to your friend’s house and looked back you might see a lot more than one block of sidewalk.

Well the mad construction crew of the universe can add a lot in 13.1 billion years, so that if you look back now to the gamma ray burst you might find it around 40 billion light years away.

For more info on cosmological distances go here.

Last Observatory Open House of the Semester April 24, 2009

Posted by jcconwell in IYA 2009, Observatory.
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Come view Saturn, and if it’s real transparent, we might catch some globular clusters. Open house starts at 8:30 PM. There is no open house in May. We will start up again in late June.

TONIGHT: “Stars that go Bump in the Night” April 22, 2009

Posted by jcconwell in Astronomy, IYA 2009, stars.
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Tonight at 7:00 PM in Phipps lecture hall, our last IYA speaker for the semester Dr. Robert Mathieu.  Professor Mathieu is Chair of the Astronomy Department at University of Wisconsin, Madison, and has done extensive work in the field of star clusters.

Dr. Robert MathieuHis talk,  “Stars that go Bump in the Night” will explore the strange world in the center of star clusters.

Bass In Yo’ Face! Fundraiser for the Observatory tonight April 21, 2009

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Hey, everyone! Please come out for an exciting night of electronic music and dance. The night will feature four DJs/performers spinning the hottest electronic music in today’s world.

April 21, 2009
07:00 PM10:30 PM

The DJs are Eddy Phelps (Trance), Matt Albrect (Dubstep), Mitch Davis (Live electronica) and Sean Irwin (Dub-Techno).

Admission to the event is FREE; however, donations will be accepted and are encouraged.  All proceeds go to the Astronomy Club and the Society of Physics Students to fund new observatory equipment.

The event will take place in 7th Street Underground.  There will be LASER LIGHTING!

Bring your friends and glowsticks!

Nancy the closet musician April 20, 2009

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Along with being a wonderful writer over at Universe Today, and sending her offspring to EIU, who knew Nancy Atkinson was a budding songwriter. But being the space geek, she wrote a song about the International space station that is today’s pod cast at 365 days of Astronomy


One Week from Today! April 15, 2009

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Our third International Year of Astronomy Talk

starbump_page_01Wednesday, April 22

7:00PM Phipps Lecture Hall

New Documentary “400 Years of the Telescope” Now Airing April 14, 2009

Posted by jcconwell in Astronomy, IYA 2009, telescopes.
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I was lucky enough to be at the   “400 Years of the Telescope” world premiere at Long Beach in January at the American Astronomical Society. It’s now being aired locally on PBS.

Tuesday, April 14 — 09:00pm on WILL-TV, with a reproadcast at Tuesday, April 14  —  09:00pm on WEIU. If your not in this region go to here for a local time.

365 Days of Astronomy sponsored by EIU April 11, 2009

Posted by jcconwell in Astronomy, IYA 2009, Observatory, physics, Podcast.
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The first of twelve podcast sponsored by the physics department at EIU for the “365 Days of Astronomy ” is on line. The permanent link for this episode is at


The dates of the all the podcasts sponsered by physics are, 4/10, 5/12, 5/24, 6/2, 6/18, 7/9, 7/23, 8/28, 9/9, 10/10, 11/17, and 12/6 all in 2009 to celebrate the International Year of Astronomy.

Listen to a new podcast every day, they are only about ten mintues each.