Cosmic blast dwarfs suns

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The Independent Online
SCIENTISTS HAVE detected the most brilliant flash of energy yet recorded and found it was brighter than all the stars in the universe put together.

Several teams of astronomers from around the world report today that they have captured rare images of a deep- space explosion invisible to the naked eye. They calculate that energy from the outburst, nine billion light years away and emitted in the form of gamma radiation, is equivalent to 10,000 Suns releasing their entire stock of nuclear fuel in the space of several seconds.

As cosmic phenomena go, the gamma-ray burster, witnessed earlier this year, is about as awesome as they come. Cosmologists say it is the biggest explosion since the Big Bang. The bursters occur at a rate of about one a day but are rarely captured by astronomers because they flash randomly in any part of the sky and last only a few seconds before disappearing.

Research published simultaneously in the journals Science and Nature confirms the outbursts of energy are the result of a cosmic collision, probably between super-dense neutron stars and a black hole.

A unique set of images of a gamma-ray burster was taken in January by a set of four robotic cameras.

Bursters occur deep in space and so are little threat to life on Earth, although Peter Meszaros, professor of astronomy at Pennsylvania State University, said there is a chance that one could have been close enough to Earth in the past 100 million years. "It's one reasonable explanation for the demise of the dinosaurs," he said.

Flash, bang, wallop,

Science, Review, page 9