According to Dr. Don Lamb of the University of Chicago and Dr. Daniel Reichart of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill at a NASA briefing Sept. 12, 2005, images captured by the NASA Swift Satellite on Sept. 4th were caused by an intense gamma-ray burst from the collapse of a rotating star into a black hole. This burst lies about 12.8 billion light-years from Earth, making it not only the most distant such event recorded to date, but also the most ancient. This burst, according to Lamb and Reichart,
…occurred deep deep deep in the constellation Pisces. The explosion—a gamma-ray burst, likely from a very early star explosion—occurred nearly 13 billion years ago, when the Universe was about 6% of its current age… A brilliant flash of gamma rays, detected by NASA’s Swift satellite, lasted for about 200 seconds. An afterglow in infrared light detected by ground-based telescopes lingered for several days and allowed scientists to measure the distance to the burst.
Discovering such a distant burst less than a year after Swift Satellite’s launch suggests that astronomers may be able to find “scores and even hundreds” of such distant bursts, Dr. Lamb explained.
The Swift Satellite project notifies astronomers by eMail and beeper when a burst is detected, allowing telescopes and detection equipment to be targeted quickly. The notice about the Sept. 4th burst was the 68th time astronomers had received the word from Swift.
The focus on gamma-ray bursts and this swift response holds the promise of learning more about the time before the formation of galaxies and quasars. According to Dr. Stanford Woolsey of the University of California, Santa Cruz, simulations suggest that the cosmos’ first-generation stars were more massive than later, post-galaxy-formation stars, and more like to have produced powerful gamma-ray bursts when they collapsed.