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NASA/Marshall Physics and Astronomy 1997 Science Stories

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1997 Science Highlights Preview: Physics and Astronomy

Science About Space

[Solving a 30 Year Old Mystery][Albert was Right!!]
[AXAF - The Next Great Observatory][Stormy (Space) Weather]

NASA/Marshall scientists drew national attention as they explored basic mysteries of the universe and what happens where the Earth meets space.

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return to top of page Solving a 30 Year Old Mystery

Concept of CGRO observing a gamma-ray burst A group of international scientists, led by a member of the NASA/Marshall team, captured the first visible light image of a cosmic gamma-ray burst detected in February 1997. This was a key piece of evidence needed to answer the 30-year old question "From how far away are the bursts coming?" This, plus follow-up images from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, indicate that these mysterious bursts, thought for nearly 20 years to be relatively nearby in space, instead come from the most distant parts of the universe, releasing more energy in ten seconds than our Sun will emit in its entire ten-billion-year lifetime. Seven years of continuous observations by NASA/Marshall's Burst and Transient Source Experiment (BATSE) gave astronomers an indication that such tremendous distances were likely to be the explanation for gamma-ray bursts, however these optical counterparts, and subsequent detections in other regions of the spectrum proved to be the smoking gun.

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The Wide-field Planetary Camera Image from Hubble of the burst region in the Visual band. The optical source believed to be the home of the gamma-ray burst is at the center of the photograph.

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A Close-Up of the Optical Transient taken not long after the burst shows both a point-like source (the bright emission) plus the extended emission (below and to the right) from what may be the distant host-galaxy.

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A later Hubble image taken in September reveals that the optical counterpart to the gamma-ray burst is still visible, indicating to astronomers that these objects are indeed from the most distant parts of the Universe.

Scientists are now asking the question "What could cause something like this?," and gamma-ray bursts will take center-stage again on January 7, 1998 at the 191st meeting of the American Astronomical Society Meeting. NASA/Marshall team member Dr. Chryssa Kouveliotou of USRA and Sir Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal of Great Britain, will deliver invited lectures on gamma-ray burst observations and theories. (NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin and Vice President Al Gore are scheduled to speak at separate sessions.)

Learn more about BATSE, gamma-ray bursts, high-energy astronomy, and recent discoveries!!!

Gamma-Ray Bursts Thought to be from Edge of UniverseJanuary 15, 1997
Discovery may be "Smoking Gun" in Gamma Ray Burst MysteryMarch 31, 1997
Counterpart Discoveries Show Gamma-Ray Bursts ARE CosmologicalJune 11, 1997
Hubble Confirms Fading Burst Source, and news from the 4th Huntsville Gamma Ray Burst SymposiumSeptember 17, 1997


return to top of page Albert was Right!!!

frame dragging pix Sky&Telescope/Bergeron High-energy observations of two black holes confirmed parts of Einstein's theory of general relativity predicted nearly 80 years ago. NASA/Marshall astronomers determined not only that black holes rotate, but that they also pull their nearby space and time environment out of shape, in process known as "frame dragging." These observations were made by examining the X-ray emission from several black holes, and have opened the possibility that these exotic objects can serve as excellent laboratories for studying various aspects of Einstein's theory of General Relativity.

Learn more about black-hole research at NASA/Marshall!!!

Measuring Spinning Black HolesMarch 24, 1997
"Superluminal" Jet Sources Close to HomeJune 11, 1997
Einstein was right...again!!!November 6, 1997


return to top of page AXAF - The Next Great Observatory

Artist's concept of AXAF in flightNASA/Marshall scientists and engineers put the finishing touches on the telescope for the Advanced X-Ray Astrophysics Facility (AXAF), the next Great Observatory. Five months of testing mapped AXAF's mirrors in exquisite detail and showed that the telescope's resolving power is 10 times greater than any X-ray telescope ever built. This is equivalent to being able to read the text of a newspaper from half a mile away. AXAF will obtain never-before-seen images of X-ray sources such as neutron stars, black holes, debris from exploding stars, quasars, centers of galaxies, and galaxy clusters. It promises as many new and exciting astronomical discoveries and images in X-rays as Hubble has provided in the visible-light region of the spectrum.


Learn more about AXAF and X-ray Astronomy research at NASA/Marshall!!!

AXAF Mirrors Near Midpoint of TestsFebruary 5, 1997
X-Ray Astronomy at NASA/Marshall

return to top of page Stormy Space Weather

NASA/Marshall scientists were instrumental in following the eruption of two coronal mass ejections (CMEs) of material from the Sun. Traveling at nearly a million miles per hour, these blobs often wreak havoc with terrestrial communications and power systems. NASA/Marshall's Ultraviolet Imager (UVI) aboard the Polar spacecraft provides unique real-time images of the entire aurora (available on the Internet), and new insights into the response of the Earth's magnetic field and atmosphere to these storms. The frequency and intensity of solar storms is predicted to increase over the next several years as we enter the next solar maximum. Instruments like the UVI, and NASA/Marshall's planned Inner Magnetospheric Imager (IMAGE), will be instrumental in improving our understanding of space weather.

Learn more about the Aurora, the UVI Experiment, and Space Plasma Research at NASA/Marshall!!!

Here Comes the SunApril 9, 1997
Aurora in the Sky with DiamondsApril 15, 1997
Ejected mass from the Sun may spark Aurora on Earth this weekendNovember 7, 1997
Current UVI Image of the Earth's Aurora!!



1997 Highlights
Microgravity
Science
1997 Highlights
Earth Science
Research


Authors: Dr. John Horack, Dave Dooling
Curator: Bryan Walls
NASA Official: Dr. Gregory S. Wilson, Director

Last updated November 17, 1997