The RAPTOR (RAPid Telescopes for Optical Response) system is a network of small robotic observatories that scan the skies for optical anomalies such as flashes emanating from a star in its death throes as it collapses and becomes a black hole — an object so dense that not even light can escape its gravity field. This birth announcement arrived from the constellation Leo in the form of an exceptionally bright flash of visible light that accompanied a powerful burst of cosmic gamma-ray emissions.
An artist’s conception of the processes by which a star collapses and becomes a black hole, releasing high-energy gamma rays and X-rays, as well as visible light, in the process. An armada of instruments detected the brightest recorded event of this type occurring on April 27, 2013. Los Alamos National Laboratory’s RAPTOR (RAPid Telescopes for Optical Response) system saw the visual flash as it occurred in the constellation Leo and lingered for more than two minutes. RAPTOR is an intelligent visual system that scans the skies for optical anomalies and zeroes in on them when it detects them. NASA satellites detected gamma-ray bursts that corresponded perfectly with the optical signature. The event provides astrophysicists with a treasure trove of data that they can use to enhance their understanding of our universe and the cosmic processes that occur within it. (Credit: NASA)
Already the event, labeled GRB 130427A by astrophysicists, is testing some long-held assumptions about the nature of the universe. For example, scientists recorded energy levels for gamma rays that are higher than what some researchers thought theoretically possible. This revelation may require physicists to modify existing theories about radiation. No doubt, the data set could yield more surprises in the future, Vestrand said.