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On October 9, many space and ground-based telescopes on Earth caught one of the brightest explosions in space. The explosion may be one of the most powerful explosions ever recorded by telescopes.
According to NASA, gamma-ray bursts, or GRBs, are the most powerful class of explosions in the universe. Scientists named it GRB 221009A, and telescopes around the world continue to observe its aftermath.
“Extremely long GRB 221009A is the brightest GRB ever recorded, and its glow shatters all records at all wavelengths,” said Brendan O’Connor, a doctoral student at the University of Maryland and George Washington University in Washington. .
“Because this explosion is so bright and so close, we think this is a once-in-a-century opportunity to address the most fundamental questions about these explosions, from the formation of black holes to tests of dark matter models.”
Scientists believe the long, bright pulse was created when a giant star in the constellation Sagitta — about 2.4 billion light-years away — collapsed into a black hole in a supernova explosion. The star was probably much more massive than our sun.
Gamma rays and X-rays rippled through the solar system, triggering detectors aboard NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, the Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory, and the Wind spacecraft, as well as ground-based telescopes such as the Gemini South telescope in Chile.
Newborn black holes spew powerful particles that can travel close to the speed of light, emitting radiation in the form of X-rays and gamma rays. After traveling through space for billions of years, an exploding black hole finally reached our corner of the universe last week.
Studying such an event could reveal more details about the collapse of stars, the near-light-speed interaction of matter, and what conditions might exist in distant galaxies. Astronomers believe that such a bright gamma-ray burst may not be seen again for decades.
The source of the explosion sounds far away, but is astronomically close to Earth, which is why it was so bright and lasted so long. The Fermi telescope detected the burst for more than 10 hours.
O’Connor was the leader of a team using the Gemini South telescope, operated by the National Science Foundation’s National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory, or NOIRLab, in Chile to observe the Oct. 14 results.
“In our research group, we called this burst ‘BOAT,’ or the brightest of all time, because when you look at the thousands of bursts detected by gamma-ray telescopes since the 1990s, this burst stands out. “, ” said Jillian Rastinejad, a doctoral student at Northwestern University in Illinois, who led the second team using Gemini South.
Astronomers will use their observations to analyze the signatures of any heavy elements released by the collapse of the star.
The bright burst also provided an opportunity for two instruments on the International Space Station: the NICER (or Neutron Star Interior Composition Survey) X-ray telescope and Japan’s All-Sky X-ray Imaging Monitor, or MAXI. The two devices combined are called the Orbiting High-Enery Monitor Alert Network, or OHMAN.
It was the first time the two instruments, installed on the space station in April, were able to work together to detect a gamma-ray burst, and meant the NICER telescope was able to observe GRB 221009A three hours after its discovery.
“Future capabilities could result in a response time of several minutes,” said Zaven Arzoumanian, NICER scientific director at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
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