Thursday, January 28, 2010

Compton Observatory: Detection of Gamma Ray Bursts

Compton Gamma Ray Observatory
Cosmic gamma ray bursts (GRBs) were discovered by accident in the late 1960's by satellites designed to detect gamma rays produced by atomic bomb tests on Earth.

The GRBs appear first as a brilliant flash of gamma rays, that rises and falls in a matter of minutes. These bursts are often followed by afterglows at X-ray, optical and radio wavelengths.

A major leap forward in understanding the source of cosmic GRBs was made when the Burst and Transient Source Experiment (BATSE) was launched aboard the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory in 1991.

BATSE had an all-sky monitor that was capable of detecting a GRB virtually anywhere in the sky. Over a period of 9 years BATSE recorded thousands of GRBs, about 1 per day. Among other things, these results showed that the bursts occurred at random all over the sky.

If the bursts were associated with objects in our Milky Way Galaxy, they would not show such a universal distribution. Rather, they would be concentrated along the plane of our galaxy like most of the matter in the Milky Way.

The BATSE data was so good that it allowed astronomers to also rule out the possibility that the GRBs might be originating in the halo of our galaxy.

The Observatory was named in honor of Dr. Arthur Holly Compton, who won the Nobel prize in physics for work on scattering of high-energy photons by electrons - a process which is central to the gamma-ray detection techniques of all four instruments.

Read the full article on the Chandra X-ray Observatory here ....

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