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NASA Detects Nearby Mystery Explosion 329

Posted by Zonk
from the kaboooooom dept.
starexplorer2001 writes "Space.com is reporting that NASA has detected a 'totally new' mystery explosion near our galaxy." From the article: "The event, detected Feb. 18, looks something like a gamma-ray burst (GRB), scientists said. But it is much closer--about 440 million light-years away--than others. And it lasted about 33 minutes. Most GRBs are billions of light-years away and last less than a second or just a few seconds."
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NASA Detects Nearby Mystery Explosion

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  • by sbaker (47485) * on Friday February 24, 2006 @11:16AM (#14792854) Homepage
    2,586,000,000,000,000,000,000 miles away is 'nearby' ?!
    • That's a lot closer that 10 billion light years away, which is about the age of the universe, depending on which NYT Science Times article you believe.

      Think of it this way - life appeared about a billion years ago, so that was twice as long ago as when this event happened. We're seeing an event that happenned a little before the dinosaurs appeared.
      • Think of it this way - life appeared about a billion years ago, so that was twice as long ago as when this event happened. We're seeing an event that happenned a little before the dinosaurs appeared.

        I think you're a bit off. Life appeared very soon after the Earth formed - a bit over four billion years ago. IIRC, multicellular life got going at about a billion years ago, and vertebrates invaded the land about half a billion years ago.

        Of course if you happen to live in Kansas then YMMV.

      • Universe (Score:5, Informative)

        by SchrodingersRoot (943800) on Friday February 24, 2006 @12:29PM (#14793754) Journal
        According to the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) [nasa.gov], which, IIRC, is the most recent measuring of the Hubble Constant, the value for the Hubble Constant is 71 ± 4 km/s/Mpc. This would give the universe an age of 13.7 ± 0.2 billion years.

        Other findings of WMAP include the makeup of the universe as 4% matter, 23% dark matter, and 73% dark energy, and a flat geometry for the universe.

        Best estimates for the age of our solar system are currently about 4.6 billion years. Life ostensibly started very quickly, on a cosmological timeline. IIRC, earliest evidence of life points to around 3.5 billion years ago.

        But your point about it being a lot more recent on a cosmological scale are correct.
    • 2,586,000,000,000,000,000,000 miles away is 'nearby' ?!

      Hell yeah. It's VERY close. Compared to the distances at which gamma-ray bursts are typically observed, this is right in front of our metaphorical nose.

    • In astronomic dimensions, yes, that's not really far away.

      The number is big, yes. But only because you're using a unit that doesn't lend itself well to the distances measured. It's like measuring the volume of oceans in pints. :)
      • In astronomic dimensions, yes, that's not really far away....you're using a unit that doesn't lend itself well to the distances measured.

        It's a hell of a lot of light years -- 440 million light years. If the universe is 17 billion years old, as it was last time I checked, that's about 2% of the radius of the universe, a respectable number. Or more locally, M31 in Andromeda is "only" 2.9 million light years away, so the "nearby" explosion is 150 times further than that.

        You might get away with "cosmologic

    • It's just about 4400 times the diameter of our galaxy. So imagine the milky way were your house. Of course I don't know the diameter of your house, but let's just assume it's something like 10 meters. Then in relation it would be 44 km away. Ok, I admit, that's not really "nearby" any more ... but then, thinking of it, the center of gravitation of a geek is his computer, so make that about half a meter, so the distance shrinks to 2.2 km ... would you accept that as nearby, or do I have to mention that the r
    • It's also an interesting definition of "new." Since it happened 440 million light years away, and we're just detecting it now, it must have happened about 440 million years ago. Not exactly new, except in the network rerun "new to you" kind of way.
    • 2,586,000,000,000,000,000,000 miles away is 'nearby' ?!

      Yes... cosmologically speaking... it's only just outside the local supercluster... it's on this map [anzwers.org]... you can't miss it... just remember to take a left at Alburquerque

    • Remember that saying: "Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades?"

      Well close only counts with black holes, neutron stars, and galactic explosions.

      I mean if a neutron star passed within a hundred million miles of us, we'd be f**ked.
    • It's meaningless in imperial measurements. That'll be around 4,162,632,500,000,000,000,000 km.
      The Milky Way is around 946,052,840,000,000,000 km in diameter (our galaxy galaxy, not the candy bar, though I wish).
      That's 4,400 times the diameter of the galaxy ;P Near? :D
  • pardon me (Score:4, Funny)

    by coaxeus (911103) * on Friday February 24, 2006 @11:17AM (#14792860) Homepage
    sorry, that was me, I had tacobell for lunch.
  • Two words (Score:3, Funny)

    by Billosaur (927319) * <wgrother@optonli ... inus threevowels> on Friday February 24, 2006 @11:18AM (#14792882) Journal
    Death Star
  • by BadanTheUgly (926119) on Friday February 24, 2006 @11:19AM (#14792886)
    ...it wasn't Dick Cheney?
  • Genisis? (Score:3, Funny)

    by LordPhantom (763327) on Friday February 24, 2006 @11:19AM (#14792887)
    Am I the only one thinking "KAAAAHHHHNNNNNN!!!!!!"?

    • Re:Genisis? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Dausha (546002)
      Yes, you are. :-) After all, that is set in the future.

      I actually thought that the explosion of the Death Star, which occurred "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away" would have just about reached us by now. Watch for a second similar "mystery" explosion in about ten years.
    • Damn! I missed my opportunity to get bathed in Gamma radiation!

      Well, green is probably a bad color for me.

  • Alt-F4 (Score:2, Funny)

    by chigun (770799) *
    Has anyone heard anything about the Four brave cosmonauts that were up there studying this?
  • OMG! (Score:4, Funny)

    by telchine (719345) on Friday February 24, 2006 @11:23AM (#14792939)
    OMG! They're making room for a hyperpace-bypass!
  • Mystery Explosion... am I the only one who thinks this is an awesome name for a crappy glam band?

    Their first album would need to be called something like Galactic Sorcery, Gems of Alchemy, or Bells of Illusion.

  • by Docrates (148350)
    I wonder if the alien's version of "I nuke you if you nuke me" is "I blow up your star if you blow up my star"....

    Maybe one of them blinked first.
    • Pessimist that I am, I figure we just witnessed the one other intelligent life form in the universe exterminating itself. Millennia from now when we confirm this, this event will be commemorated as We Are Alone Now Day.
  • And, somewhere in the UP, between Watersmeet and Marquette [wikipedia.org] a billboard has silently been erected along US2 that reads:

    "Mystery Explosion" only 440 million light-years away. Take exit Alpha Gamma 12, Just past Blorgon 7.

    If this makes no sense to you, then you have never lived or spent any significant amount of time in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. You poor, poor troll [wikipedia.org]. Go home and kiss your children.
  • But it is much closer--about 440 million light-years away--than others. And it lasted about 33 minutes. Most GRBs are billions of light-years away and last less than a second or just a few seconds."

    Does this mean the event happened 440 million years ago and we're just now detecting it because information about it has finally arrived? The physics of spacetime have always puzzled me.

    • Re:I'm confused (Score:5, Informative)

      by ChowRiit (939581) on Friday February 24, 2006 @11:37AM (#14793088)
      That's right: nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, not even information. We are witnessing something that happened millions of years ago, but because the electromagnetic waves (light, gamma rays etc) carrying the information are all travelling at the same speed (the speed of light), we get a chronological "look" at how the event panned out millions of years ago.

      In actual fact, when you look at, say, a chair, you're actually seeing the chair as it was several (nano/pico/something, not sure of the exact time interval) seconds ago (a very small time period).
      • That's right: nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, not even information.

        Quantam entanglement can.
        • But you can't transfer information with it faster than light.
          • The indications are that when one particle is observed, the other entangled particle changes state immediately. Read "In Search of Schrodinger's Cat" for an example. There's other books, but that's the one that comes to mind immediately.
            • Right, but the result of the initial observation is still not deterministic, so you can't use non-locality to send information. At least according to the Copenhagen (most widely held) interpretation of QM.
        • Hehe, and when it does, we don't know about it until we observe it (distance from event)/(speed of light) seconds later :o)
      • Does that take into account the expansion of the universe? Is it 400 million light years away now or is that how far away it was when the exposion occurred (presumably it was closer 400 million years ago?)
        • Does that take into account the expansion of the universe? Is it 400 million light years away now or is that how far away it was when the exposion occurred (presumably it was closer 400 million years ago?)

          Well, unfortunately, it's neither. "400 million light years" is close enough so that we can get away with this kind of approximation, but astronomers really don't talk about "distance" at scales much larger than this because it doesn't have much meaning. The "400 million" number was probably derived fr

        • As I understand it, astronomers use light-years-as-of-now to measure distance as that is the most relative to our frame of reference. I don't think they normally account for inflation. (There's a good economics pun in there somewhere but I'm too wired to make it out right now).

          -l
      • nothing can travel faster than the speed of light - oh, I wouldn't be so sure about that. Human stupidity can travel much faster than light.
      • Re:I'm confused (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Weird O'Puns (749505)
        nothing can travel faster than the speed of light

        <nitpick>

        Single particles can. For real life example see Cherekov radiation [wikipedia.org].

        </nitpick>

        • Re:I'm confused (Score:2, Interesting)

          by aluminum_geek (756252)
          <Supernitpicking>

          Technically you are correct. However, what most people mean is nothing can travel faster than the speed of light in a vaccuum. Cherekov radiation is just an example of a particle traveling faster than the speed of light in air. While difficult, this is (obviously) not impossible. The speed of light varies depending on the medium it's traveling in, just like sound.
          Now, if you accept the quantum mechanics view of the universe, theoretically some things can go faster than the spee
        • Now, IANAP, but I believe the deal with Cherenkov radiation is that it occurs when a charged particle (such as an electron) exceeds the speed of light in a medium. Since the propogation speed of light changes based on the medium through which it travels, in some media, this can be accomplished. The denser the material, the slower light propagates through it. Water is something like 0.75c. Diamond, I believe, is somewhere in the neighborhood of 0.4c. See Refractive Index [wikipedia.org] for more information.

          The general idea
        • In the case of Cherekov radiation the particles aren't traveling faster than C. The single particles phase velocity is traveling faster than the group velocity of the rest of the light. This causes the blue glow which is similar to an object breaking the sound barrier. But group velocity never exceeded C. Remember, light can slow down too.

          As of "now" it is accepted that nothing travels faster than C.

          Even this [iitk.ac.in] experiment did not conclude that the particle traveled faster than light. Only that the

      • "In actual fact, when you look at, say, a chair, you're actually seeing the chair as it was several (nano/pico/something, not sure of the exact time interval) seconds ago (a very small time period)."

        It really depends on how for away a chair is.

        I believe the light travels about 12 inches in a nanosecond.
      • So if you were far enough from Earth, but could use a "Super Strong(tm)" telescope to see the Earth, it would show you Earth's past!

        Sweet! Just like that Star Trek TOS episode... Squire of Gothos.
    • yup. and if you realize that the source of the explosion was an interstellar spaceship accellerating to lightspeed, then you know that it's going to start braking near this solar system any minute now.

      In fact, better check outside the window...
      • Well if it starts braking near our solar system, at least it won't be stopping here :-)


        My first thought was maybe somebody triggered their auto-destruct.

    • is why do we give a wet slap about something that lasted half an hour 440 million years ago?

      That started as a joke, but now I really want to know: Why DO we care?

      • Weeeelll, if it happened 440 million LY ago, and it takes that long for it to get to us, we can't tell what happened after that since it hasn't gotten "here" yet. So it's not that "do we care about that", but it's "we can't check on anything that happened after that till it gets here".

        I think. :]
      • That started as a joke, but now I really want to know: Why DO we care?

        Why do we care about most things in the news -- hardly any affect us personally or directly. If you insist on a practical application; this is a sign of a massive explosion, a gigantic energy release. If we survive, we will need to know how to do things like that in a few million years -- they'd be ultimate WMDs, sterilizing an entire galaxy, or more hopefully have a constructive use.

      • This is a good exercise in drawing distinctions between cows and humans. Upon seeing a large explosion several miles away, a cow would likely blink, lower its head, and continue to munch grass. The explosion would not immediately affect the cow's practical agenda, which is to eat.

        Most humans, and perhaps some higher mammals, would be curious as to the nature, cause, and ultimate ramifications of the explosion. Most of us would like to investigate it. Perhaps the explosion is related to other, smaller

    • Does this mean the event happened 440 million years ago and we're just now detecting it because information about it has finally arrived?

      Assuming the explosion site is moving only slowly relative to us, which it almost certainly is - then yep, that's exactly what it means. If we're in rapid motion relative to each other then things get a little more complicated, because the meaning of the word 'ago' gets rather blurred...

    • Does this mean the event happened 440 million years ago and we're just now detecting it because information about it has finally arrived?

      Yes. Though it doesn't matter that it happened that long ago.

      The physics of spacetime have always puzzled me.

      Then here's one for you: since it could not have had any causal effect on us until its light propogated to us, in a very real sense for us it has only just happened.

      So 440 million years ago 440 million lightyears away is really right now.
  • by KrancHammer (416371) <(GunseMatt) (at) (hotmail.com)> on Friday February 24, 2006 @11:30AM (#14793014)
    Pffft! We gonglorians at digg.magellanclouds.com.et had this story posted 440 million years ago!
  • This is Brigadier Kerla speaking for the High Command. There has been an incident on Praxis. However, everything is under control, we have no need for assistance. Obey treaty stipulations and remain outside the Neutral Zone. This transmission ends now.
  • It's the Vogon Constructor Fleet clearig a way for the new bypass. We're next!
  • I just felt a chill. As if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.

    (yes, yes, speed of light, 440 million years ago, whatever)

  • It was that working warp engine that these guys [slashdot.org] are working on.
  • Actually, that explosion was the result of all the computers on the planet Bleepgorp exploding shortly after their illegal downloads of season 1 of American Idol through the delta quadrant wormhole.
  • If this thing is a start that will go supernova in a few days (a possibility there article mentioned) does anyone know how big/bright it is likely to get?

    I've heard of these in the historic past that got real bright - even visible during the day. That would be cool!
  • Hey, Rag-Tag Fugitive Fleet [television...utpity.com], we're over here!
  • Intersting... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ChowRiit (939581)
    Ignoring all the silly posts above, this is a fascinating event. It's nice to know there's still mystery in the universe, and the prospect of seeing a supernova unfold is very exciting. I'm not sure, but I believe a supernova would outshine any other stars in the sky, even from that distance (although this may only be stars within out galaxy). Either way, it will let us get valuable information on the hardest part of a star's life to observe: their death.
    • I believe a supernova would outshine any other stars in the sky, even from that distance (although this may only be stars within out galaxy).
      As long as it's distant enough not to cook us [wikipedia.org]...
  • Looks like someone is using Weapons of Mass Destruction in a far away galaxy! We must stop them!

    Lets get that space program ramped up to save the galaxy!
  • "Thank you, professor. We now take you to Grover's Mill, New Jersey, where one of the mysterious objects has landed."
  • ... is just the final implosion of the Star Trek franchise.
  • that was my mother's birthday candle
  • Most GRBs are billions of light-years away and last less than a second or just a few seconds.

    Obviously they get compressed together over a long journey. Has anyone considered this?

    Remember, no one knows as much as they think they do. When you do, the Universe keeps proving you wrong.

    • Obviously they get compressed together over a long journey. Has anyone considered this?

      A great many people. And it runs the other way --- radiation gets spread out due to cosmic expansion over a long journey, so we actually see the phenomena in slow motion.

  • So they say *most* are billions of light years away and happen for just seconds. Have they ever thought perhaps their measurements of space/time are not correct, and while those other bursts they've seen may really be billions of light years away, they could actually be happening for hours? If nothing else, I would be more interested in the previous findings and how space time may actually behave differently over greater distances than previously thought. IANAS though, so perhaps it's just the wandering
  • by StupendousMan (69768) on Friday February 24, 2006 @11:59AM (#14793396) Homepage

    IAU Circular 8674, which states in part

    [a spectrum] obtained with Gemini-South telescope (+ GMOS) on Feb. 21.024 UT, shows that underlying a power-law continuum are features consistent with a broad-lined type-Ib/c supernova (designated 2006aj) near maximum light, confirming the findings of Masetti et al. (GCN 4803).

    There is a good deal of news in the GRBLog:

    [utexas.edu]http://grad40.as.utexas.edu/grblog.php [utexas.edu]

    Just search for "GRB 060218".

    It appears to be a Type Ib/c supernova -- meaning a massive star, which has lost most of its hydrogen envelope, running out of fuel in its core and exploding -- in a relatively nearby galaxy. By "nearby", I mean "at a redshift of z=0.033", which is still much farther away than the Virgo or Coma clusters of galaxies.

    It is currently around magnitude 18, and may brighten by a magnitude or so, but will still require a pretty big telescope and sensitive camera to detect.

  • by Dark Paladin (116525) * <jhummelNO@SPAMjohnhummel.net> on Friday February 24, 2006 @12:06PM (#14793488) Homepage
    Obi-Wan: It's as if a million voices all cried out in terror - and were suddenly silenced.

    Luke: I knew I shouldn't have had the extra beans on that jawa burrito.
  • Obviously, it was a malfunctioning StarDrive, a magnetic containment breach, which allowed the escape of Gamma particles for approximately 33 minutes, until the engineering crew was able to get the containment field to stabililze and stop the leak.

  • Well, I guess we found Saddam's WMD's ...
  • Can I presume that this signals the Second Coming or should I feel free to book my flight to the Bahamas now?
  • by Zerbey (15536) * on Friday February 24, 2006 @12:29PM (#14793749) Homepage Journal
    Just prior the explosion was heard:

    "Hey, Billy-Joe! Watch THIS!"
  • Let me get this straight: A half-billion years ago, outside our galaxy, for half an hour, there was some unusual gamma radiation.

    Yep, NASA detects Nearby Mystery Explosion certainly didn't pique my interest for what turns out to be of only vague academic value. No, sir!

  • The plans for the Vogon's Hyperspace Bypass have finally been approved. Demolition begins this week. They've been available in the local planning office for the last nine months.
  • I'm glad that the 'totally new' was in quotes to clue me into the fact that this was introducing a new definition of the phrase: only half a billion years old. :-)
  • like the minds of millions of /.ers have ceased to exist.
  • Until we discovered that gamma ray bursts are not uniformly distributed, they appeared to defy E=MC^2; were they to radiate uniformly, E=MC^2 would suggest impossibly massive sources. Instead, as we understand them right now, they radiate much like a spotlight and cannot be directly measured beyond the penumbra

    This article suggests that this gamma ray burst may simply be from a different angle than the continuous bombardments of gamma ray bursts that we have been studying since the beginning of the cold war

The only possible interpretation of any research whatever in the `social sciences' is: some do, some don't. -- Ernest Rutherford

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