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How Far Away Are Gamma-Ray Bursters?
Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific
Vol. 107, No. 718 (1995 December), pp. 1167-1175
Published by: Astronomical Society of the Pacific
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40680664
Page Count: 9
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The positions of over 1000 gamma-ray bursts detected with the BATSE experiment on board the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory are uniformly and randomly distributed in the sky, with no significant concentration to the galactic plane or to the galactic center. The strong gamma-ray bursts have an intensity distribution consistent with a number density independent of distance in Euclidean space. Weak gamma-ray bursts are relatively rare, indicating that either their number density is reduced at large distances or that the space in which they are distributed is non-Euclidean. In other words, we appear to be at the center of a spherical and bounded distribution of bursters. This is consistent with the distribution of all objects that are known to be at cosmological distances (like galaxies and quasars), but inconsistent with the distribution of any objects which are known to be in our galaxy (like stars and globular clusters). If the bursters are at cosmological distances then the weakest bursts should be redshifted, i. e., on average their durations should be longer and their spectra should be softer than the corresponding quantities for the strong bursts. There is some evidence for both effects in the BATSE data. At this time the cosmological distance scale is strongly favored over the galactic one, but is not proven. A definite proof (or disproof) could be provided with the results of a search for very weak bursts in the Andromeda galaxy (M31) with an instrument ~10 times more sensitive than BATSE. If the bursters are indeed at cosmological distances then they are the most luminous sources of electromagnetic radiation known in the Universe. At this time we have no clue as to their nature, even though well over a hundred suggestions have been published in the scientific journals. An experiment providing ~ 1 arcsecond positions would greatly improve the likelihood that counterparts of gamma-ray bursters are finally found. A new interplanetary network would offer the best opportunity.
Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific © 1995 The University of Chicago Press