Glossary term: gamma ray burst

Description: Gamma ray bursts are short bursts of gamma rays. These were first detected by satellites monitoring the Earth for covert nuclear weapons tests. However their origin was found to lie in outer space, indeed beyond our Galaxy. Most gamma ray bursts are thought to result from supernova explosions with others possibly resulting from two neutron stars in a binary system coalescing together. These huge explosions produce two focussed jets of material. Highly energetic gamma rays are also focussed along these jets. We only see a gamma ray burst if, by chance, the line of one of the jets coincides with the angle we on Earth view the stellar explosion from. Observations of optical and X-ray counterparts to gamma ray bursts have shown that these explosions are found in other galaxies, most very distant from the Earth.

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