An illustration of a gamma-ray burst.

Astronomers have discovered the most powerful flash of light ever seen.

Astronomers have detected the most powerful flash of light they have ever seen. Gamma-ray bursts, accidentally discovered by a US military satellite in the 1960s, are likely to be produced when a giant star explodes at the end of its lifetime and collapses into a black hole. , or when super-dense star remnants known as neutron stars collide. In a matter of seconds, this explosion releases as much energy as the sun does for an entire 10 billion years. The flash detected on Sunday was the most powerful one ever observed, emitting 18 teraelectron volts of energy. Scientists are still analyzing the measurements, but if the findings are confirmed, the gamma-ray burst would be the first gamma-ray burst found to carry more than 10 teraelectron volts of energy. Thought, research shows that the intensity of the flash initially confuses 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 analysis of the signal confirmed that it was actually a gamma-ray burst from about 2.4 billion light-years away. It’s not exactly close, but the gamma-ray burst is still the closest I’ve ever seen. This gamma-ray burst was within a safe distance from Earth, but at a much closer distance would be catastrophic for Earth. A flash of energy within a few thousand light years from Earth will strip the planet’s protective ozone layer and cause mass extinction. In fact, scientists believe that such an explosion may have been triggered by the Ordovician extinction that occurred 450 million years ago, one of the largest mass extinctions in Earth’s history, according to NASA (Opens in a new tab). Although a speckled gamma-ray burst, recently dubbed GRB221009A, has appeared on Earth 20 times closer than the average gamma-ray burst, it is still far enough away to spark more excitement than concern. “This is a really, very exciting event!” Gemma Anderson, an astronomer at Curtin University in Australia who studies a similar phenomenon, told ScienceAlert (Opens in a new tab). ‚ÄúThis event is very close, but very energetic, so it is easy to observe because the radio, optical, X-ray and gamma-ray light generated is very bright. So we can study this gamma-ray burst a lot with telescopes large and small. We collect very comprehensive data sets when they light up and then disappear.” There are two types of gamma-ray bursts. Short gamma-ray bursts are more rare and last no more than 2 seconds. These explosions account for about 30% of all such events and are believed to be due to collisions with neutron stars. Another type, long gamma-ray bursts, can last up to several minutes and are likely produced by hypernovae, stellar bursts 100 times brighter than supernovae. Astronomers mostly see the afterglow of these explosions from electrons energized by the explosion. GRB221009A appears to be a long gamma-ray burst, but astronomers still don’t know what caused the explosion. “It’s too early to tell,” Anderson told ScienceAlert. “Light from an underlying supernova will take several days to brighten. But given the long duration of this gamma-ray burst, it could be a very powerful type of supernova.” Telescopes around the world (and in Earth orbit) now point to: A dusty galaxy with a flash of light. They will try to get the most complete picture of the source by observing the light produced by the explosion at as many wavelengths as possible. “When you’re dealing with a cosmic explosion that leaves a black hole and explodes stellar remnants at near-light speed, you’re looking at the physics that takes place in some of the most extreme environments that can’t be reproduced on Earth,” Anderson told ScienceAlert. “We still don’t fully understand this process. The proximity of these explosions means we can collect very high quality data to study and understand how they happen.” The observation was first published on Sunday in Astronomer’s Telegram (Opens in a new tab). , October 9. Follow Tereza Pultarova on Twitter @TerezaPultarova. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and Facebook.
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