Sunday, July 08, 2007


From an ESO Press Release: "Using a robotic telescope at the ESO La Silla Observatory, astronomers have for the first time measured the velocity of the explosions known as gamma-ray bursts. The material is travelling at the extraordinary speed of more than 99.999% of the velocity of light, the maximum speed limit in the Universe."

Gamma Ray Bursts occur in distant galaxies and are among the most powerful explosions in the Universe, exceeding even supernovae in power. Their nature has been a mystery because they are transient and difficult to observe. The SWIFT spacecraft catches GRB's Bursting Out All Over, allowing instruments to focus quickly upon them as they burst. The 0.6 meter REM telescope (pictured) looked at two bursts 9.3 and 11.5 bilion light years away.

The immense energy of these events is difficult to explain with current theories. Only a massive Black Hole could produce energies like this. Black Holes could be ubiquitous in the Universe, within stars and even smaller objects. The presence of Black Holes barely 2 billion years after the Big Bang is one more indicator of a changing speed of light. It is easy to teach 99.999% of the present speed of light if your local speed of light is higher.

Matter travelling at this speed has a Lorentz factor of 400. If your starship could travel this fast, you would see a light year go by in less than a day. Even at smaller fractions of c, travel to other solar systems is possible within a few years. Interstellar travel is closer than most people think. If GRB's can accelerate this fast, perhaps spaceships can.

2 Comments:

Blogger alex kaplan said...

What is GRB?

10:31 PM  
Blogger Stephen said...

GRB = Gamma Ray Burst. Gamma rays are light with high energy and therefore short wavelength. They don't penetrate the atmosphere, so you need a space craft to observe them. Thing is, since they're such high energy, there must be a really powerful event in a small space to create them.

4:33 AM  

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