The Zadko telescope was
linked to a global
network of telescopes, which helped to
narrow down to the right area of the sky.
Galileo Galilei, who recorded the first astronomical
observations with a telescope 400 years ago, would be
impressed. Just in time for the International Year of
Astronomy, astronomers at The University of Western Australia
have seen a massive gamma ray burst that happened 11 billion
years ago - long before our own planet had even been formed.
"As if seeing one of the biggest explosions in the universe
wasn't dramatic enough, we had a catastrophic computer crash on
the night," said Dr David Coward, UWA Senior Research Fellow and
Zadko Project leader.
"We had nothing to record the images with, so team member Timo
Vaalsta used a cheap video camera instead of the sophisticated
astronomy camera that wasn't working." We were able to capture
images of the event before the European Southern Observatory,
the site of the most expensive and biggest telescopes in the
world. This highlights the importance of WA as a unique and
important location for astronomy.
If a similar explosion happened in our galaxy today, it could
result in mass extinctions on earth." In fact, the explosion was
about a billion times brighter than our sun, so we are lucky
that they seem to occur more frequently in the very distant
Remarkably, the UWA Physics team were not sure that they had
captured the explosion until weeks later. By comparing the
image of the sky using the NASA satellite location, they
discovered a faint glow that shouldn't be there, right at the
location later reported by the European Southern Observatory.
This glow they found is the signature of a remarkable event -
the death of a star and the birth of a black hole.
In December, the team reported their observations to NASA, who
distributed the report to observatories around the globe. The
Zadko Telescope was the only facility in Australia to detect the
11 billion year old light from this one off event.
"The image we recorded is a window in time, allowing us to peer
into the distant past to a time when the universe was very
exotic," Dr Coward said. "We are discovering the richness of
this transient universe, one that is filled with brief but
extremely bright flashes."
UWA Vice-Chancellor, Professor Alan Robson, said the Zadko
Telescope put the University on the threshold of an exciting
venture that would create a new profile in robotic astronomy in
Western Australia. The telescope was linked to a global network
of telescopes in direct communication with NASA's Swift
satellite ground station, which helped direct the Zadko
Telescope to the sky-positions of gamma ray bursts.
"Another key aspect of the project is to encourage high school
participation in the research. It is likely that high school
students could, as a result, contribute to tracking dangerous
near-Earth asteroids. In partnership with the Western
Australian Department of Education, the UWA Zadko Telescope
Project is committed to enhancing science education," Professor
Editor's Note: Original
news release can be found here.