Friday, 30 October 2009

Probing the cosmological dark ages

The research papers are officially published and the record breaking observation we made a few months ago is now out there for everyone to read about. It's a strange feeling because I don't think I made much of a scientific contribution to this, Nial Tanvir and Ruben Salvaterra's teams were certainly the people that should take all the credit, but as luck would have it Thor Wold and myself were the first to image and detect the most distant object ever seen in the universe from the ground! Our 20-minute observation, done despite gale-force summit winds, showed that the gamma-ray burst was very red meaning it was either a dusty galaxy, or, more excitingly, an extremely distant object. It turns out it was the latter and the most distant object anyone has seen so far in human history. It's so far away that it happened when the universe was extremely young and few stars and galaxies had had a chance to form, hence the phrase "the dark ages".

Peter Coles wrote a very interesting article about the significance of the discovery in "The Edge of Darkness". The BBC had the news on their front page just the other day under an almost tabloid yet accurate headline - "Stellar blast is record-breaker". The journal Nature is where the real science was published and although you need paid access to the journal there is some stuff you can read in "Most distant gamma-ray burst spotted" and "A flash from the early Universe".

Thor's experience of the night is in the latest UKIRT newsletter in "View from the Top".

I'm sure the record won't last too long but sometimes you can be lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. In this case the two most experienced staff observers were at the summit together and decided to "give it a go" despite the bad weather, and what a result!


Zuzana said...

As a scientist I share your enthusiasm in discoveries such as these.;) How extraordinary!;)

canders said...

Tom, Thanks to Devany I just found your site. Congratulations to you on your role in this grand exciting discovery.

Tom said...

Protege and canders - thank you!