Gamma False Alarm: Supposed Cosmic Blast Didn't Actually Happen

Thursday, 29 May 2014 04:25 PM

By Morgan Chilson

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An apparent gamma ray burst from the Andromeda galaxy was a false alarm, the science community reported Thursday after the data was analyzed.

Gamma ray bursts typically are associated with the collapse of massive stars or when two neutron stars merge.

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But the gamma ray excitement that spread quickly across the Internet Wednesday was generated by what Universe Today called an “unlikely combination of Swift’s Burst Alert Telescope (BAT) detecting what was a previously known object and a power outage at Goddard Space Flight Center and Swift Data Center, so that the data couldn’t be analyzed by the regular team of astronomers around the world.”

Once scientists were able to examine the data that caused the excitement, it turned out to be a false alarm.

“Interestingly, the Swift team never claimed it was [a GRB]; indeed, I haven’t seen any professional communication claiming that this was a GRB,” post-doctoral research assistant from the University of Leicester Phil Evans wrote on his blog, Universe Today reported. “Why it has been reported throughout the web as a GRB is something I can only speculate on, but Swift has been fabulously successful studying GRBs.”

Swift Data Center’s Kim Page, an astronomer at the University of Leicester, said “the source had been initially mistaken for a new outburst, and that its intensity had been overestimated due to measurement error,” Nature quoted her as saying.

The news that the gamma ray burst was a false alarm spread much more slowly Thursday than the news Wednesday that a burst might be occurring.





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