Three unusually long-lasting stellar explosions discovered by NASA’s Swift satellite represent a previously unrecognized class of gamma-ray bursts (GRBs). Two international teams of astronomers studying these events conclude that they likely arose from the catastrophic death of supergiant stars hundreds of times larger than the sun.

GRB 111209A exploded on Dec. 9, 2011. The blast produced high energy emission for an astonishing seven hours, earning a record as the longest-duration GRB ever observed.

GRB 111209A exploded on Dec. 9, 2011. The blast produced high-energy emission for an astonishing seven hours, earning a record as the longest-duration GRB ever observed. This false-color image shows the event as captured by the X-ray Telescope aboard NASA’s Swift satellite. Credit: NASA/Swift/B. Gendre (ASDC/INAF-OAR/ARTEMIS)

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The astronomers discussed their findings Tuesday at the 2013 Huntsville Gamma-ray Burst Symposium in Nashville, Tenn., a meeting sponsored in part by the University of Alabama at Huntsville and NASA’s Swift and Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope missions.

GRBs are the most luminous and mysterious explosions in the universe. The blasts emit surges of gamma rays — the most powerful form of light — as well as X-rays, and they produce afterglows that can be observed at optical and radio energies. Swift, Fermi and other spacecraft detect an average of about one GRB each day.

via NASA – Dying Supergiant Stars Implicated in Hours-long Gamma-Ray Bursts.