A fitting send-off

Wednesday, March 26, 2008 at 3:14 PM



As Stefan Geens noted on Ogle Earth, the sky can provide real fireworks. In this case, one of the most powerful explosions ever witnessed happened to be timed to provide a wonderful salute to the passing of Arthur C Clarke earlier this month. The gamma ray burst, GRB 080319B, is situated in the middle of the Bootes constellation and is the most luminous burst recorded in the 40 years that satellites have been detecting gamma ray bursts. In fact, it was so intense that the optical component of the explosion was even visible to the naked eye.

Stefan created a KMZ file for GRB 080319B that overlays follow-up images of the sky taken just 20 seconds after the gamma rays were detected. Load the file in Sky in Google Earth and you can compare the before images from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, which were taken a couple of years ago, with the optical flash from the gamma ray burst to see the dramatic brightening. Stefan crafted these overlays himself, but with a network link, it is possible to stream images and announcements of events in real time and share them with anyone around the world. Alternatively, if you find something interesting in Sky in Google Maps, just click "Link to this page" right above the map and post the link for others to view. Imagine harnessing all of the small telescopes in the world to follow up any unusual event instantaneously by announcing them on Sky — from Earth crossing asteroids to supernovae to gamma ray bursts. That would make the largest astronomical observatory ever seen!

The VOEventNet layer in Sky is a prototype for this sort of service. It uses live feeds from the Gamma-ray Burst Coordination Network to give the burst location and information on the latest detections and from the GRBlog to provide details from follow-up observations. Like all gamma ray bursts, the initial detection of GRB 080319B was reported in VOEventNet. Science never sleeps, so researchers have moved on to the next set of detections, looking for the next observation that will give astronomers insight into the physics that powers these massive explosions in deep space.