Astronomers have just discovered what may be the most powerful flash of light ever seen.
Gamma ray bursts, which were accidentally detected by US military satellites in the 1960s, were likely produced when stars They explode at the end of their lives before collapsing black holesor when there is a super-dense stellar remnant known as neutron stars Collide. Within seconds, these blasts unleash an amount of energy like the sun It will be emitted during its 10 billion year lifetime.
The flash detected on Sunday was the most powerful of all, releasing 18 TeV of energy. Scientists are still analyzing the measurements, but if the results are confirmed, the gamma-ray burst would be the first-ever gamma-ray burst carrying more than 10 TeV of energy.
At first, the power of the flash confused astronomers; They thought it must have been produced by a relatively close source. They also initially believed that the energy came from X-rays, not gamma rays. Subsequent analyzes of the signal confirmed that it was indeed a gamma-ray burst coming from a source of about 2.4 billion . light years far. Although the gamma-ray burst isn’t exactly close, it’s still the closest of all.
Although the gamma-ray burst was within a safe distance from Earth, a much closer explosion would be catastrophic for our planet. Such an energetic flash during thousands of light years from a land It would strip the planet of its protective ozone layer and potentially cause a mass extinction. In fact, scientists believe that one of the largest mass extinction events in Earth’s history – the Ordovician extinction, which occurred 450 million years ago – may have caused such an explosion, according to NASA (Opens in a new tab).
Although the recently observed gamma-ray burst, dubbed GRB221009A, appeared 20 times closer to Earth than the average gamma-ray burst, it was still far enough away to cause more excitement than concern.
“This is indeed a very exciting event!” said Gemma Anderson, an astronomer at Curtin University in Australia, who studies similar phenomena ScienceAlert (Opens in a new tab). “This event is very close but also very energetic meaning that the radio, X-ray and gamma rays it produces are very bright and therefore easy to observe. So we can study gamma-ray bursts with lots of large and small telescopes around the world and collect very comprehensive data sets because they first light up and then fade.”
Gamma ray bursts come in two types. Short gamma-ray bursts are rare and last no more than two seconds. These explosions make up about 30% of all these events and are believed to be caused by the collision of neutron stars. The other type, long gamma ray bursts, can last up to several minutes and are likely to produce hypernovasStarbursts 100 times brighter than supernovaeMost massive stars die after their cores run out of hydrogen fuel.
Astronomers often see the afterglow of these explosions that come from the electrons activated by the explosion. GRB221009A appears to be a long gamma-ray burst, but astronomers don’t yet know why it originated.
“It’s still too early to tell,” Anderson told ScienceAlert. “The light from the latent supernova would take days to shine. However, due to the long duration of the gamma-ray burst, it could be a very powerful type of supernova.”
Telescopes around the world (and in Earth’s orbit) are now pointing at dust galaxy from which the flash emanated. They will try to observe the light generated by the explosion in as many wavelengths as possible to get the most complete picture of its origin.
“When you’re dealing with cosmic explosions that explode stellar remnants close to the speed of light, leaving behind a black hole, you’re watching physics happen in the most extreme environments that are impossible to recreate on Earth,” Anderson told ScienceAlert. “We still do not fully understand this process. Such a close eruption means we can collect high-quality data to study and understand how such eruptions occur.”
Notes were first published in astrological telegram (Opens in a new tab) Sunday 9 October.