On September 13, a whole week ago, back when we were busy being consumed by the possibility of financial armageddon or the meaning of lipstick on a pig, something flitted past Earth that tends to put all that into perspective: Evidence in the form of electromagnetic radiation of a high-energy explosion that took place 12.8 billion years ago — making it the oldest and furthest gamma ray burst ever recorded, from when the universe was only 7% of its present age.
The recording was done by the Swift satellite, which is automated to quickly lock on and zoom into such events. This particular burst, GRB 080913, had a redshift higher than anything Swift had seen previously. Space.com has the story with a good image of the burst, NASA has the raw data including coordinates, and Swift’s site has raw imagery data with grid overlays (try the GIFs) so it didn’t take long to create an overlay for Google Sky. Here it is.
(In March 2008, Swift caught the most luminous gamma ray burst so far, coincidentally within hours of Arthur C Clarke’s death. That burst was 7.5 billion light years away. GRB 080913 is more than half that again older and further away.)