Saturday, February 21, 2009

Distractions from a previous life

Last September astronomers saw a massive gamma ray burst - the biggest on record. I love a big explosion story. It happened 12.2 billion light years away, and from the ABC website:
Taking into account the huge distance from earth of the burst, scientists worked out that the blast was stronger than 9,000 supernovae
Cool. That's a big kaboom. But what amused me most about this story was some of the comments about it. It started well:
Wow! - to think this explosion occurred only 1.5 billion years after the Big Bang. Amazing stuff, really. (from Derek)
But the followup comment was just hysterical:
Which part of...
"the gamma-ray burst occurred 12.2 billion light years away"
didn't you understand? (from Gypse)
If you are going to be smug, it's best to be in possession of a clue.

There were a several people who provided the explanation that if it was 12.2 billion light years away, the light took 12.2 billion years to get here. Therefore it happened 12.2 billion years ago. The universe is thought to be about 13.8 billion years old (give or take, depending on today's prevailing wisdom), therefore this happened about 1.5 billion years post Big Bang.

Incidentally, if you do read through those comments, the ones saying that you can't make a star and have it go supernova in such a short time are wrong. The early universe was full of huge, short lived stars. The fact that our sun is about 4.5 billion years old is utterly irrelevant. It's a conservative middle of the road star, not a super massive live fast die young kinda star that made this massive kablooey.

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