This picture provided by Noirlab on October 14, 2022 shows record-breaking Gamma-Ray bursting caught with Gemini South in Chile Handout International Gemini Observatory/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA/AFP
Astronomers have observed the brightest flash of light ever seen in an event 2.4 billion light-years from Earth, likely caused by the formation of a black hole.
The gamma-ray burst, the most intense form of electromagnetic radiation, was first detected by orbiting telescopes on October 9, and scientists around the world are still watching its glow.
Astrophysicist Brendan O’Connor told AFP that gamma-ray bursts lasting hundreds of seconds like the ones that occurred on Sunday are caused by dying massive stars more than 30 times larger than our Sun.
The star explodes in a supernova, collapses into a black hole, then matter forms into a disk around the black hole, falls into it, and is expelled in a jet of energy traveling at 99.99% the speed of light. .
The flash released photons with a record energy of 18 teraelectron volts, that is, 18 followed by 12 zeroes, and disrupted longwave radio communications in Earth’s ionosphere.
“It’s really breaking records, both in terms of the number of photons and the energy of the photons reaching us,” said O’Connor, who made new observations Friday with infrared instruments on the Gemini South telescope in Chile. “Something so brilliant, so close, it’s really a once-in-a-lifetime event,” he added.
— Gamma-ray bursts typically release the same amount of energy in a few seconds as our Sun produces in its lifetime, and this event is the brightest gamma-ray burst.
The gamma-ray burst, known as GRB 221009A, was first seen Sunday morning EST by telescopes including NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, Neil Gehrel’s Swift Observatory and the Wind spacecraft.
1.9 billion year old movie.
It originated in the direction of the constellation Sagittarius and traveled around 1.9 billion years to reach Earth, less than the current distance from where it started because the universe is expanding.
Observing the event now is like watching a 1.9 billion-year-old record of these events unfold before us, and it gives astronomers a rare opportunity to gain new insights into things like the formation of black holes.
“That’s what makes this kind of science so addictive: You get an adrenaline rush when these things happen,” said O’Connor, a professor at the University of Maryland and George Washington University.
He added that while the initial burst may have been visible to lucky amateur astronomers, it has since disappeared from view.
In the coming weeks, he and others will continue to study supernova signatures at optical and infrared wavelengths to confirm that their hypotheses about the flash’s origins are correct and that the event is consistent with known physics.
Unfortunately, although the initial burst may have been visible to amateur astronomers, it has since disappeared.
Supernova explosions are also predicted to be responsible for the production of heavy elements, such as gold, platinum, uranium, and astronomers will also be keeping an eye on their signatures.