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D. How Researchers Detect Gamma-Ray Bursts

Narrator: This is Science Today. The third interplanetary network is a group of spacecraft, including NASA's Ulysses, that detect about one gamma-ray burst a week. Kevin Hurley, a research physicist at the University of California, Berkeley's Space Sciences Lab is lead investigator of the Ulysses gamma-ray burst experiment. Hurley says a burst is gone in about ten or twenty seconds, so researchers have to stay on their toes once it's detected.

Hurley: You don't get a second chance at it. So you have all the detectors running all the time and whenever a burst goes off, it's transmitted to me by my cell phone or by electronic mail. So you then have about twenty-four hours - the meter starts running, so to speak.

Narrator: Once positioned, Hurley communicates the approximate location to astronomers, who will then look with their telescopes for what's called the afterglow of the gamma ray burst.

Hurley: We communicate the results of our interplanetary network discoveries to about four hundred astronomers around the world. That happens electronically, almost instantaneously. And those astronomers are then free if they have time on a telescope, to go and look in the direction where we saw the burst coming from.

Narrator: For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.