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NASA's Swift Observatory  (Source: NASA)
Gamma burst reported as most powerful on record.

NASA scientists have identified a violent cosmic eruption that temporarily blinded a NASA satellite in June.  An X-ray telescope that tracks gamma rays on board the NASA Swift satellite captured a record-breaking burst of rays that had left scientists mystified about its massive brightness and point of origin.  

At it's peak the gamma-ray explosion – documented as the most powerful emission on record -- produced between 143,000 and 145,000 X-ray protons per second, which is about 10 to 15 times brighter than previous bursts captured by the telescope.   

After weeks of analysis, researchers are now indicating that the astounding blast was produced by a massive star collapsing into a black hole.  

According to and, although the Swift satellite was designed specifically to study gamma-ray bursts, the instrument was not designed to handle an X-ray blast this bright.

"The intensity of these X-rays was unexpected and unprecedented," said Neil Gehrels from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. He said the burst, named GRB 100621A, is the brightest X-ray source that Swift has detected since the observatory began X-ray observation in early 2005. "Just when we were beginning to think that we had seen everything that gamma-ray bursts could throw at us, this burst came along to challenge our assumptions about how powerful their X-ray emissions can be.”

The event was so powerful, it disrupted the telescope's data-analysis capabilities.

"The burst was so bright when it first erupted that our data-analysis software shut down," said Phil Evans from the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom. "So many photons were bombarding the detector each second that it just couldn't count them quickly enough. It was like trying to use a rain gauge and a bucket to measure the flow rate of a tsunami."

The X-rays had been traveling for over 5 billion years before being detected by the Swift satellite.

The burst lasted for about one minute and was about 200 times brighter than the Crab Nebula, an X-ray radiation benchmark for astronomers. 

The X-ray blast is the brightest ever detected from outside of the Milky Way galaxy. 

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Typo - protons
By HilbertSpace on 7/19/2010 9:11:14 AM , Rating: 3
No such thing as "X-ray protons " - should be " photons "

RE: Typo - protons
By menace on 7/19/2010 12:24:25 PM , Rating: 2
Also I'm confused by usage of both x-rays and gamma rays to describe the phenomenon. Gamma rays are a result of nuclear decay while x-rays result from acceleration of electrons. A differing definition of x vs gamma is by wavelength (gamma being less than 10pm). Either way I wish they would stick with one term or the other.

The high energy suggests short wavelength and thus gamma rays by the wavelength<10pm definition but perhaps still x-rays by the particle origin definition. I think they are randomly mixing the definitions and thus mixing up the reader as well.

RE: Typo - protons
By homebredcorgi on 7/19/2010 2:45:14 PM , Rating: 2
Every definition of gamma rays I have seen is based on wave length, which I assume is what this article is referring to. They are just high energy photons...higher energy than x-rays, that is. You are correct that gamma rays do result from nuclear decay, although the definition of a gamma ray is not directly linked to nuclear decay - just to energy (wavelength).

RE: Typo - protons
By geddarkstorm on 7/19/2010 2:58:33 PM , Rating: 2
I think it's that gamma rays Doppler shifted down to x-rays. So, the x-rays they detected, had to have started as gamma rays, but by the time they reach us, red shift has taken its toll. That's how I understand it.

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