NASA, ESA, N. Tanvir (University of Leicester), A. Fruchter (STScI), A. Levan (University of Warwick), and E. Rol (University of Leicester)
Peering across 7.5 billion light-years and halfway back to the Big Bang, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has photographed the fading optical counterpart of a powerful gamma ray burst that holds the record for being the intrinsically brightest naked-eye object ever seen from Earth. For nearly a minute on March 19, this single "star" was as bright as 10 million galaxies. Hubble Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2) images of GRB 080319B, taken on Monday, April 7, show the fading optical counterpart of the titanic blast. Hubble astronomers had hoped to see the host galaxy where the burst presumably originated, but were taken aback that the light from the gamma ray burst is still drowning out the galaxy's light even three weeks after the explosion. Called a long-duration gamma ray burst, such events are theorized to be caused by the death of a very massive star, perhaps weighing as much as 50 times our Sun.