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Friday, September 19, 2003



Artist's rendition of a gamma-ray burst. Credit: NASA - click to enlarge.

European Space Agency -- For a few seconds every day, Earth is bombarded by gamma rays created by cataclysmic explosions in distant galaxies. Such explosions, similar to supernovae, are known as ‘gamma-ray bursts’ or GRBs.

Astronomers using ESA’s X-ray observatory, XMM-Newton, are trying to understand the cause of these extraordinary explosions from the X-rays given out for a day or two after the initial burst.

However, the violence of the process begs the question, what happens to the space surrounding a GRB? A few years ago, some astronomers thought that a GRB might wipe out all life in its host galaxy.

That now seems to be a pessimistic view because the latest evidence shows that GRBs focus their energy along two narrow beams, like a lighthouse might do on Earth, rather than exploding in all directions like a bomb.

That does not mean that GRBs are not dangerous. Some theories suggest that anything caught in the beam, out to a distance of around 200 light years, will be vaporised.


Which should take care of all the rich people. And the rest of us. Ah, well. Maybe the roaches will do a better job.


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