GAMMA RAYS: Breakthroughs: The Pulse of the Planet daily radio program offers free legal online mp3 downloads, exploring the world of sound in nature, culture and science, with audio adventures, world music, extraordinary sound portraits, science diaries, and nature ring-tones; an amazing sonic experience.

Airdate: Apr 27, 1998
Scientist: Neil DeGrasse Tyson

GAMMA RAYS: Breakthroughs

GAMMA RAYS: Breakthroughs
Orbiting telescopes have enabled astronomers to begin to trace the origins of Gamma Ray Bursts.

For decades, astronomers have been trying to find the sources of bursts of high energy light knows as Gamma Rays, which appear to occur routinely every day, throughout the known universe. Recent developments are bringing us closer to an answer. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by the American Museum of Natural History.

The sounds we're listening to are actual Gamma Ray burst events which have been translated into musical tones. The higher the pitch, the higher the intensity of Gamma Rays.

"A Gamma Ray burst is not a naked eye phenomenon. You need special detectors and in fact they have to be in orbit above the Earth."

Dr. Neil de Grasse Tyson is Frederick P. Rose Director of New York's Hayden Planetarium.

"Unfortunately, the early Gamma Ray burst detectors could tell you that a burst happened, but couldn't tell you where it happened, and so for most of the brief thirty year history of Gamma Ray bursts, the biggest challenge was the hunt to see if the Gamma Ray bursts coincided with any other object that we had other data on. For example, a galaxy or a star. Only in the last year or so have there been the capability launched into orbit to hone in on the exact location of where a Gamma Ray burst was observed. And you have to do this fast because you not only have to detect the Gamma Ray burst, you have to find out exactly where it came from and get that information back to the surface of the Earth, alert astronomers on the big telescopes, so they can then put the telescope on the location where you saw the burst to see if there's a tandem optical phenomenon going on. With a Gamma Ray burst, you want to catch that as well. And so much of scientific discovery and advance comes about by saying, "Well I don't know what it is but it resembles this other thing that I do understand and maybe I can garner some insights through those channels that connect one to the other."

Pulse of the Planet is presented by the American Museum of Natural History. I'm Jim Metzner.