The Gordon Carter Memorial Lecture: Dr Andrew Norton – “Gamma Ray Bursts, a Cosmic Detective Story”


Monday 12th March 2012

Dr Andrew Norton, Senior Lecturer in Astrophysics at the Open University, was invited to present the first Gordon Carter Memorial Lecture, which will become an annual event commemorating the founder of the Papworth Club who BeppoSAX satellite provided observations of GRBs that allowed spectral measurements to be made and therefore an estimate of the redshift of the object producing them. It turned out that these objects were about 6 billion light years away, meaning that they were exploding during the early history of the universe.

Some working model was required to account for the observations and the theory of how much energy could be produced by an object of given mass. Currently there may be two ways of producing the intense beam of radiation that emerges from these objects (as opposed to a uniform distribution). There may be pairs of neutron stars that orbit closer and closer to each other until they collide and explode, and there may be hypernovae that represent the end of early stars containing hydrogen and helium, but no other elements. Further observations are being made using the Swift space telescope that can detect the GRBs and then use other imagers to detect the optical and X-ray counterparts. Andrew commented that the spacecraft is designed to send a text message to the controlling astronomers on earth so they can alert the world’s observatories to these important events.

This was a worthy inaugural lecture that was much appreciated by the Papworth audience.

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