The latest in Ph-word: October ’22

It was a nice and friendly month with two small news from space. If you are too bored just skip to the last sentence of the post, you’re gonna like it.

Brightest ever

The month’s news illustrated by Dall-E Mini’s imagination

The brigthest gamma ray burst ever recorded in the sky happened in early October. These bursts do happen from time to time, and in a few seconds they can emit as much energy as the Sun will during its whole lifetime.

Most of their energy is in X-rays and gamma rays (gamma rays being light even more energetic than X-rays). But even in the visible light this one was so bright that could be seen with amateur telescopes … and we speak two billion light years away, that is more than one fifth of the visible universe away. Oh, I forgot to mention this was also the closest burst to us ever observed.

Gamma ray bursts can come from either stars that blow up before they become black holes, or from two colliding neutron stars. This one’s long duration (several minutes) implied the first kind.

All this is no doubt cool but now comes the best part. At the moment that the burst’s light arrived at Earth, detectors of lightnings in UK, Germany and India saw that the propagation of pulses from the lightnings suddenly changed … because the burst had ionized our ionosphere a little bit. I hope it did only good things to all other civilizations that it met on its way.

Demo success


In September, the DART spacecraft sent by NASA crashed into asteroid Dimorphos to see if this would change its orbit. You know, just like this, for no conceivable reason at all (not).

Now the numbers are in and we know that the demo was a success. Dimorphos is a small asteroid orbiting a larger one (that’s why it’s technically a “moonlet”). After the crash its orbit became permanently shorter. It’s the first time that humankind altered the orbit of a celestial body.

And just to close with a piece of trivia: “Dimorphos” sounds like a made-up greek word and means “having two shapes”. The large asteroid that it orbits probably makes a little more sense as it’s called Didymos, or “twin”. I guess it’s still better than calling a planet George.

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