ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday March 23, 2008
Vol. 42 - No 43

Universe pays tribute to Sir Arthur Clarke

A powerful stellar explosion that has shattered the record for the most distant object visible to the naked eye was detected by NASA's Swift satellite on Wednesday.

The explosion, known as a gamma-ray burst, also ranks as the most intrinsically bright object in the universe ever observed by humans. “It's amazing. We've been waiting for a flash this bright from a gamma-ray burst ever since Swift began observing the sky three years ago, and now we've got one that is so bright that it was visible to the naked eye even though its source is half-way across the universe,” said David Burrows of Penn State University, who directs the continuing operation of Swift's X-ray telescope and the analysis of the data it collects.

The burst was detected by Swift at 2:12 EDT on March 19 and was one of five gamma-ray bursts detected that day, the same day that famed science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke died. “Coincidentally, the passing of Arthur C. Clarke seems to have set the universe ablaze with gamma-ray bursts,” said Swift science team member Judith Racusin, a Penn State graduate student.

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