Edo Berger got an alert early last Thursday morning when a satellite detected a 10-second blast of energy known as a gamma ray burst coming from outer space.
Telescopes around the world swiveled to focus on the explosion, soon picking up infrared radiation, which is produced after gamma rays in this kind of event. Berger was ready to view the visible light, which should have followed.
It never arrived.
"We were kind of blown away. We immediately knew what that meant," Berger said.
What it meant was that he was looking at the oldest thing ever spotted -- an enormous star exploding 13 billion years ago.
"At that point the age of the universe was only 600 million years," he said. In other words, Berger said, he was looking "95 percent of the way back to the beginning of time."
The gamma radiation from GRB 090423, which took 13 billion years to reach earth, was detected by a NASA satellite called Swift. The infrared radiation was detected by the Gemini Observatory in Hawaii.
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