Stellar explosion is farthest ever seen


POSTED: Sunday, May 03, 2009

The Gemini Observatory on Mauna Kea has obtained the first color image of what astronomers say is the most distant object ever seen in the universe.

Gemini measured a gamma ray burst — a stellar explosion — about 13 billion light-years away, close to the estimated 13.7-billion-year age of the universe.

“;We're looking back to the time the universe was very, very young,”; said Gemini spokesman Peter Michaud. “;This is the furthest we ever looked back in time or distance in the universe.”;

“;We now have the first direct proof that the young universe was teeming with exploding stars and newly born black holes only a few hundred million years after the Big Bang,”; said Edo Berger, a Harvard University professor, in a Harvard-NASA news release.

The Swift satellite detected the gamma-burst at 10 p.m. Hawaii time on April 22, and within minutes it was observed at the Gemini Observatory. A number of other observatories, including the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope on Mauna Kea, also observed the afterglow within a few hours.

Michaud said Gemini has a unique program allowing astronomers to take advantage of a “;time dependent”; event such as a stellar explosion before it fades from view.

Harvard said other telescopes around the world focused on the gamma-ray burst, dubbed GRB 090423, to observe the afterglow after word spread about the distance.

A stellar explosion seen last September held the previous record, astronomers said. It was about 190 million light-years closer than GRB 090423.

Derek Fox of Penn State University said, “;The burst most likely arose from the explosion of a massive star. We're seeing the demise of a star — and probably the birth of a black hole — in one of the universe's earliest stellar generations.”;