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A Cosmic Murder Mystery

16 Nov 2015, 19:24 UTC
A Cosmic Murder Mystery
(200 words excerpt, click title or image to see full post)

Image courtesy of the Space Telescope Science Institute.

“…would you believe it? … I stepped right into the middle of a baffling murder mystery and they put me to work…”
–Nick Charles (William Powell), The Thin Man

They say there are a million ways to die in the big city. Sometimes a body goes out quietly. Sometimes, it goes out with a bang.
Either way, it’s our jurisdiction, and we’re on the case.
I can tell you about one we just had. Actually, it’s more like a serial. About once a day, Earth-bound telescopes catch a glimpse of bright flashes coming from distant regions of the universe. Sometimes, if they got enough in them, we can even see the flash with our bare eyes. The Hubble Space Telescope caught one of these things going off (top image).
This bright flash – one last cry before a star shoves off this coil – tells us how it lived.
In this artist’s rendering, jets of high-energy radiation shoot out from a Gamma-ray burst, signaling the death of a massive star. (Image courtesy of NASA/Swift/Mary Pat Hrybyk-Keith and John Jones, via Wikipedia)
Before they die, stars teeter on a ...

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