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Gamma Ray Bursters are *not* like sprites.

Gamma Ray Bursters

Gamma Ray Bursters [ 1, 2, 3, 4 ] are among the most violent explosions in the universe. An entire star violently disrupts itself, with more energy released even than a supernova. Should one somehow happen within a few light years of Earth, it would be rather unpleasant.

Fortunately, they are extremely rare events, and are thus generally extremely far away. Billions of light years, beyond the solar system, outside our Galaxy, and generally further away than anything else you can see or probably even think of.


Sprites also [ 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 ] are modest electrical discharges that occur high in the upper atmosphere, at altitudes of tens of miles. That's above airplane altitudes, but below satellites; not very far away. Sprites are fairly tenuous things, consisting of humanly-understandable amounts of energy spread out across city-sized volumes of the atmosphere. The total energy content of a sprite is near a gigajoule. That's equivalent to a second's worth of electricity for a city, or the energy content of a thousand jelly doughnuts. Much smaller than the energy of an exploding star.

Sprites are not the same as Gamma Ray Bursters

However, some people are nonetheless confused. In an article today, ( [fair use], a photograph of a sprite was passed off as a photo of a gamma ray burst. It's immediately obvious that it isn't a gamma ray burster for several reasons:

Now, one can complain about deadlines, or people writing science stories who don't know enough science (and I am complaining), but there's an interesting little twist: Sprites make bursts of gamma rays [ 1, 2, 3 ]. So, the confusion is perhaps a bit understandable. Picture 1 mentions gamma rays, picture 2 mentions gamma rays; picture 1 mentions space, picture 2 mentions space. Understandable or not, though, it's still wrong.

[Fair use] The image is taken from a web page provided by the copyright 2005 Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and used under the US Copyright Act of 1976 fair use provisions covering criticism, comment, and scholarship.
[ Papers | | Phonetics Lab | Oxford ] Last Modified Thu Jun 2 19:42:51 2011 Greg Kochanski: [ ]