Blast From the Past
| | The region of Aries before (left) and after (right) the explosion, with the pinpoint of light created clearly...
| | The region of Aries before (left) and after (right) the explosion, with the pinpoint of light created clearly visible. Courtesy NASA.|
Scientists are in the midst of observing a supernova that’s in the act of exploding. GRB060218 is cooking right now in the constellation Aries. It’s quite exciting, but it helps underscore what is to me one of the eeriest aspects of astronomy: the fact that it’s essentially looking back in time. GRB060218 is 440 million light-years away. That means this explosion actually happened 440 million years ago and is only now getting to us. This thing started waaay before the Internet. It even preceded the dinosaurs. Back then, all the continents were still shoved together in a giant Pangaea. Makes you wonder what other amazing—or horrible—things are racing toward us at light speed right now. If, for example, our sun went prematurely bust, we wouldn’t know it for a full seven minutes! —Eric Adams