Scientists Just Detected a Colossal Gamma-Ray Burst, And It's a Record-Breaker


A massive flare of incredibly powerful radiation that has just been discovered by observatories all across the world is being called "record-breaking."

The event, which was discovered for the first time on October 9, was so bright at first that it was mistaken for an occurrence closer to home. It was initially identified as Swift J1913.1+1946 and believed to be a short X-ray burst coming from a nearby source. The exact nature of the glow, a gamma-ray burst, one of the universe's most intense explosions, now known as GRB221009A, was only revealed via subsequent study.

Even though it was farther distant, at 2.4 billion light-years, it was still one of the closest objects ever spotted. Furthermore, with up to 18 teraelectronvolts of energy, this particularly intense gamma-ray burst appears to be the most energetic ever found.

To be clear, life on Earth is in no way endangered despite the fact that this closeness is 20 times closer than the typical lengthy gamma-ray burst.

Instead, it's a highly anticipated event that may shed new (pun intended) light on these interesting explosions. GRB221009A is possibly the most inherently luminous gamma-ray burst we've ever observed, despite the fact that its proximity makes it appear brighter in our sky.

Astronomer and expert in transitory events Gemma Anderson of the Curtin University branch of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) in Australia told ScienceAlert, "This is indeed a really exciting occurrence!"

"Due to the event's proximity and high energy, its radio, optical, X-ray, and gamma-ray light emissions are incredibly bright and straightforward to detect. As a result, we can observe this GRB with numerous large and small telescopes throughout the globe and compile a very thorough dataset as it initially becomes brighter and then gradually dims."

The radioactive disintegration of atomic nuclei results in the creation of gamma radiation, the most energetic type of light in the universe. Additionally, a gamma-ray burst is a huge occurrence that releases as much energy in a few seconds as the Sun would in 10 billion years. These explosions signal the death of a huge star, often known as a supernova or hypernova. Additionally, they may result from a collision of two neutron stars.

In essence, the star collapses under gravity when it runs out of fuel for its hydrogen fusion, which happens in stars more massive than eight of our Suns packed together. The result is a massive explosion known as a supernova, which sends the outer material into space while the centre disintegrates into a neutron star or black hole.

Different gamma-ray burst profiles indicate various explosion types and fading patterns. 2017 saw the first observation of a collision between two neutron stars, which resulted in a brief gamma-ray burst. Superluminous supernovae and hypernovae, which are extraordinarily potent occurrences, are linked to long-duration bursts.

What we're looking at with GRB221009A is yet unknown.

It's still too early to say, according to Anderson. "It will take days for the light from an underlying supernova to get brighter. However, because of how long this gamma ray burst has been around, it might represent a very potent kind of supernova."

We do know that the burst was quite intense and that it appeared to have come from a highly dusty galaxy. Additionally, a Cherenkov observatory in China called the Large High Altitude Air Shower Observatory (LHAASO) has discovered photons with energy up to about 18 teraelectronvolts (TeV). There have only been a few TeV-emitting gamma-ray bursts discovered so far; if the LHAASO data are accurate, GRB221009A will be the first above 10 TeV.

In the days following the outburst, there will be a lot of science to be done. In order to fully understand the explosion's source, researchers are pointing telescopes at the object's location to see how the afterglow behaves across a wide range of wavelengths.

"You are observing physics occurring in the most extreme circumstances that are hard to duplicate on Earth," Anderson says of cosmic explosions that blast forth star debris at close to the speed of light while leaving a black hole behind.

"This approach still needs more explanation from us. With an explosion this close by, we can gather incredibly high-quality data to research and comprehend how such explosions happen."

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