Imagine an explosion so fierce and intense that it carries with it the power to destroy everything in its path for hundreds if not thousands of light years away.
No this isnít the realms of science fiction but the amazing world of Gamma Ray Bursts.
Gamma Ray Bursts, or GRBs as they are otherwise known were first detected during the late 1960ís. US monitoring equipment on a space satellite set up to detect Soviet nuclear weapons testing began to notice intense gamma ray bursts that
were hard to explain.
For a long time it also proved impossible to determine the origin of these bursts. Then in the last decade of the 20th century
astronomers made the astonishing discovery that these phenomenal bursts of radiation emanated from the observable extremities of the known Universe.
Dramatic though the discovery of Gamma Ray bursts was, there is nothing particularly rare about them since they
were, and continue to be spotted at a rate of around one a day. But what were these bursts? They were obviously some form of intense radiation coming from an
unimaginably distant location but how could they be explained?
Very quickly astronomers began to surmise that GRBs were exploding stars. These are usually known as supernovas but GRBs were in a whole new category and
made even the tremendous force of a supernova look minuscule by comparison. Scientists have now speculated that Gamma Ray Bursts may be associated with black
holes capable of releasing a fireball of energy into a high pressure jet that in turn creates the shock waves that lead to the formation of Gamma Rays.
Long and short duration.
For all their astonishing power GRBs are of extremely short duration and fall into two categories. The first involves
those with an average of just a third of a second and others with a much longer average span of 30 seconds. Astronomers then conjectured that different causal forces
lay behind the origin of the two categories. As it is there is still a huge amount we do not understand about GRBís, but one thing we do know for sure is the great damage they
would be capable of causing.
Since most GRBs are at the extremities of the Universe and occurred when the Earth was very young there is
seemingly nothing to worry about. Yet the very nature of GRBs mean that an explosion at even several thousand light years distance could prove deadly to all life on Earth.
Indeed some scientists believe that GRBs were responsible for at least some of the frequent mass extinction's that have swept the planet over millions of
years. For more on the possibly drastic implications that GRBís could hold for our planet please turn to the accompanying link:
Our Sun - the ultimate end!
For the ultimate disaster representing the End of the World we should look no further than our own Sun. Eventually - in
many millions of years - this too will erupt in a vast fireball and completely vaporise our planet. This may be a long time in the future but the Sun has shown recent signs of an
increase in activity.
For more on this please turn to our special topic.
The Sun is getting stronger.
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