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Swift Might Have Detected A Supernova Just Beginning

Scientists are studying a strange explosion that appeared on February 18, 2006, about 440 million light years away in the constellation Aries. The "before" image on the left is from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. The "after" image on the right is from NASA Swift's Ultraviolet/ Optical Telescope. The pinpoint of light from this star explosion outshines the entire host galaxy. Most other sources are foreground stars. Each image is 5 arcminutes by 5 arcminutes. Coordinates for this burst are as follows: RA: 03:21:39.71 Dec: +16:52:02.6. Credit: SDSS (left), NASA/Swift/UVOT (right)
by Staff Writers
Greenbelt, Md. (SPX) Feb 23, 2006
NASA's Swift satellite has detected a strange cataclysmic event in another galaxy that scientists think could be a supernova just getting started.

The blast, detected by the satellite on Feb. 18, at first seemed like a gamma-ray burst, but it was located in a galaxy that is relatively near the Milky Way for such phenomena, and it lasted far longer than normal.

"This is totally new, totally unexpected," Neil Gehrels, Swift's principal investigator, said in a statement. "This is the type of unscripted event in our nearby universe that we hoped Swift could catch."

The event, named GRB 060218, is emanating from a galaxy located about 440 million light-years away, in the direction of the constellation Aries. That distance would make this the second-closest GRB detected by Swift, but the length of the outburst has scientists puzzled. It lasted more than 33 minutes, while GRBs typically last less than one minute - and most appear for less than one second.

One hint the event might be a supernova - the explosive death of a massive young star - is astronomers using the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope in Chile have imaged its location in optical light and found it is growing brighter - so bright, in fact, that the team thinks even amateur telescopes will be able to spot it beginning next week. The sky coordinates are right ascension 03:21:39.71 and declination +16:52:02.6.

Next, NASA is planning to probe the location of the sky where the event occurred with both the Hubble Space Telescope and the Chandra X-ray Observatory.

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ESO's VLT Launches Laser Guide Star
Cerro Paranal, Chile (SPX) Feb 23, 2006
Astronomers at the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope array have created an artificial laser guide star that makes it possible to apply the instrument's adaptive-optics system that counteracts the blurring effect of the atmosphere. ESO ignited a laser beam of several watts on Jan. 28 at Yepun, the fourth 8.2-meter telescope in the array.

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