NASA telescopes observe unprecedented explosion

April 8, 2011
Swift Telescope

Blast seen from Swift's Ultraviolet/Optical and X-ray telescopes (credit: NASA/Swift/Stefan Immler)

One of the most puzzling cosmic blasts yet observed has been observed by¬†NASA‘s Swift, Hubble Space Telescope, and the Chandra X-ray Observatory.

Although research is ongoing, astronomers say that the unusual blast likely arose when a star wandered too close to its galaxy’s central black hole. The spinning black hole formed an outflowing jet along its rotational axis. A powerful blast of X- and gamma rays is seen if this jet is pointed in our direction.

Hubble Telescope

Visible light image of host galaxy from Hubble Space Telescope (credit: NASA/ESA/A. Fruchter --- STScI)

On March 28, Swift’s Burst Alert Telescope discovered the source in the constellation Draco when it erupted with the first in a series of powerful X-ray blasts. The satellite determined a position for the explosion, now cataloged as gamma-ray burst (GRB) 110328A, and informed astronomers worldwide.

A deep image taken by Hubble on April 4 pinpoints the source of the explosion at the center of a small, distant galaxy that lies 3.8 billion light-years away. That same day, astronomers used NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory to make a four-hour-long exposure of the puzzling source. Astronomers plan additional Hubble observations to see if the galaxy’s core changes brightness.

The NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages Swift and Hubble, and NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages Chandra.