Scientists have confirmed that a rare gamma-ray burst (GRB) detected last year was likely the brightest cosmic explosion that has occurred “since human civilization began.”
Officially named GRB 221009A, the explosion in question was quickly dubbed BOAT, or Brightest Ever Recorded, after its discovery on October 9, 2022.
“GRB 221009A is likely the brightest explosion of X-ray and gamma-ray energies that has occurred since the beginning of human civilization,” Eric Burns, Louisiana State University assistant professor of physics and astronomy, said in a NASA news release.
NASA Black Hole Gallery
Explosions as luminous and powerful as a boat only happen once every 10,000 years, according to the results of a new study led by Burns that estimated the frequency of events. The gamma burst was initially detected by instruments on an orbiting spacecraft, which were blinded by the power of the GRB, and immediately sent alerts to Earthbound scientists warning them of the event.
Then the powerful telescopes on GRB 221009A were used to study the less energetic effects of the cosmic outburst. The blast was estimated to be about 2 billion light-years from Earth, putting it far beyond the boundaries of our Milky Way galaxy, but still one of the closest types of GRBs discovered to date.
The data also revealed that BOAT was about 70 times brighter than any previously detected GRB, allowing it to easily outshine its host galaxy. The amazing event likely signaled the death of a star and the birth of a new black hole.
says Daniel Bjorn Malisani of Radboud University in the Netherlands In a press release issued by the Niels Bohr Institute. “In the 290 seconds that it lasted, GRB 221009A released nearly 1,000 times as much energy as our Sun has emitted over its entire 4.5-billion-year lifetime.”
GRBs are often accompanied by supernova explosions that can be seen in the weeks following the event. However, observations by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope and Hubble have so far failed to find evidence of this in the aftermath. This may be because the GRB’s location – a few degrees above the galactic plane – is surrounded by choking clouds of cosmic dust and gas.
Astronomers hope that more observations from powerful telescopes in the coming months will help answer the question of whether a supernova exists, and is very faint, or if it did not happen at all.
Astrophysics professor Andrew Levanat, also of Radboud University, commented: “We can’t definitively say there was a supernova, which is surprising given the brightness of the explosion.” “If there is, it is very faint. We plan to continue searching, but it is possible that the entire star collapsed directly into the black hole instead of exploding.”
How are gamma ray bursts created?
Gamma ray bursts (GRBs) are the brightest and most powerful class of explosions known to have occurred in the observable universe in the aftermath of the Big Bang that created it. Most GRBs occur when a star more massive than our Sun runs out of fuel to power the nuclear reaction in its core.
The subsequent collapse generates a new black hole, which upon creation pushes a narrow stream of particles away from it at nearly the speed of light, producing an extremely bright gamma-ray burst.
Astronomers also believe that these rare radiation bursts occur when two very dense neutron stars collide, or in rare cases where such a star violently merges with a nearby black hole.
GRBs are extremely difficult to catch. This is because they are extremely short-lived – with the initial explosion It lasts anywhere from a tenth of a second to more than two hours – It appears at random. The Earth’s atmosphere readily absorbs gamma rays, so scientists must rely on orbiting spacecraft to detect the initial burst of radiation, and see where to target observations by larger telescopes.
It is also believed that energetic events are responsible for creating complex heavy elements such as gold and platinum. A set of papers describing the discovery has been published in Astrophysical Journal Letters. Stick to IGN to stay up-to-date with the latest and brightest news from the world of science.
Anthony is a freelance contributor covering science and video game news for IGN. He has more than eight years of experience covering breaking developments in multiple scientific fields and there is absolutely no time to fool you. Follow him on Twitter @BeardConGamer
Image credit: NASA/Swift/A. Beardmore (University of Leicester)
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