What Are Gamma-Ray Bursts?

What Are Gamma-Ray Bursts?

What Are Gamma-Ray Bursts?

What Are Gamma-Ray Bursts?


Gamma-ray bursts are the brightest--and, until recently, among the least understood--cosmic events in the universe. Discovered by chance during the cold war, these evanescent high-energy explosions confounded astronomers for decades. But a rapid series of startling breakthroughs beginning in 1997 revealed that the majority of gamma-ray bursts are caused by the explosions of young and massive stars in the vast star-forming cauldrons of distant galaxies. New findings also point to very different origins for some events, serving to complicate but enrich our understanding of the exotic and violent universe. What Are Gamma-Ray Bursts? is a succinct introduction to this fast-growing subject, written by an astrophysicist who is at the forefront of today's research into these incredible cosmic phenomena.

Joshua Bloom gives readers a concise and accessible overview of gamma-ray bursts and the theoretical framework that physicists have developed to make sense of complex observations across the electromagnetic spectrum. He traces the history of remarkable discoveries that led to our current understanding of gamma-ray bursts, and reveals the decisive role these phenomena could play in the grand pursuits of twenty-first century astrophysics, from studying gravity waves and unveiling the growth of stars and galaxies after the big bang to surmising the ultimate fate of the universe itself.

What Are Gamma-Ray Bursts? is an essential primer to this exciting frontier of scientific inquiry, and a must-read for anyone seeking to keep pace with cutting-edge developments in physics today.


In a strictly observational sense the question “What are gamma-ray bursts?” has a straightforward answer: gammaray bursts (GRBs) are unannounced flashes of high-energy light detected from seemingly random places on the sky. in the first few seconds of activity, GRBs emit as much energy as our Sun will release in its entire ten billion-year lifetime. We now believe that they are the brightest electromagnetic events in the Universe. the arrival at this mindboggling conclusion is the result of a remarkable journey spanning the last three decades of the twentieth century. This historical tale—of an unexpected beginning, mystery, cutting-edge technology, and persistent scientists—is the main subject of chapter 1 and frames the content of the entire book.

“What are gamma-ray bursts?”—as in “what are the astrophysical origins of gamma-ray bursts?” and “what are the uses of gamma-ray bursts in helping us to understand the universe?”—is a deeper question with less certain answers. As discussed in chapter 2, the event themselves are very likely due to various interactions of particles and light with magnetic fields. These basic ingredients are carried . . .

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