On the 13th and 14th of April 2000, I was lucky enough to attend this Workshop in Huntsville, Alabama, US - the home of the Marshall Space Flight Centre (MSFC). The workshop had been organized by the AAVSO, NASA and MSFC. The aim was to encourage amateur observations of gamma-ray bursters (GRB) and other such exotic objects! This may seem a little far fetched at first and, of course, amateurs cannot expect to see anything of these objects at such short wavelengths.
Guy Hurst, his wife Anne, and John Toone were also in attendance in an audience of nearly 100 participants, of whom a large proportion were professional astronomers who observed at more conventional wavelengths and were there to learn just as we were.
We learnt a great deal about the physics behind these outbursts, and the instrumentation built to observe them - satellites.
Basically, GRBs are thought to be either two coalescing neutron stars or black holes, or a collapsing hyperstar, a super-massive star that is thought to have formed early in the history of the universe.
But how can amateurs help? Well, it appears that although the initial outburst only lasts a matter of seconds or minutes, some systems may still be visible down to magnitude 16 or so even after a few hours - possibly up to about 5 hours - as an afterglow in visible light. If amateurs can be alerted quickly enough, they could turn their telescopes onto these exotic objects and acquire useful observations by following the decline. Furthermore, it seems that although they continue to fade, the wavelength emitted becomes longer, and so those equipped with R and perhaps I filters could follow them for even longer after outburst. This was ably demonstrated by a group of amateurs from Buffalo, New York, who observed a GRB afterglow at around magnitude 21 using an R filter. To help amateurs observe these objects, and of course professional observatories that can respond quickly enough, a network is being instigated by the gamma-ray astronomers themselves via a number of nodes, of which the AAVSO will be one. The Astronomer Magazine will also have a connection to this node so that UK observers can also receive any alerts at the earliest opportunity. As the UK is around five hours ahead of the US it gives us a chance to steal a march on them!
Of course, this was only part of the HEA Workshop. Other topics that were covered included jets from galaxies and stars, and of course, the energies produced from CV outbursts. But perhaps more of them another time.
Members may be interested in the following list of high energy missions and WWW links. (Note: HST is included because it has the capability to observe in the UV).
|Compton GRO||1991||NASA (Germany)||Gamma Ray|
|Rossi XTE||1995||NASA||X-ray Timing|
|BeppoSAX||1996||Italy (Netherlands)||X-ray-Various; GRBs|
|Chandra XRO||1999||NASA||X-ray - Comprehensive|
|XMM||1999||ESA||X-ray - Spectra, imaging|
CHANDRA X-RAY OBSERVATORY CENTRE
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