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‘Absolutely terrible’ gamma ray bursts hit Earth – ‘I’ve never seen anything like it before’

‘Absolutely terrible’ gamma ray bursts hit Earth – ‘I’ve never seen anything like it before’

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from: Tanya Banner

The brightest gamma-ray burst ever to hit Earth is intriguing researchers because such an event only happens once every 10,000 years.

BATON ROUGE – Last fall, Earth was struck by a high-energy, exceptionally bright and long-lasting radiation pulse that caught the attention of astronomers around the world. The radiation was a result of a gamma ray burst, one of the most powerful explosions in the solar system. Such an explosion can release as much radiation in a matter of seconds as our Sun does in its lifetime.

The gamma ray burst on October 9, 2022 was a remarkable event, as researchers suspected shortly after the explosion. This explosion, intricately named GRB 221009A, quickly earned the nickname “BOAT” as an acronym for “brightest of all time”. Further investigation of the sky event confirmed the astronomers’ assumptions and showed that the boat explosion was indeed an unusual event.

A gamma ray burst this bright only happens once every 10,000 years

Eric Burns of Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge explains in a communication: “GRB 221009A may have been the brightest X-ray and gamma-ray burst that has occurred since the dawn of human civilization.” The assistant professor of physics and astronomy analyzed more than 7,000 gamma-ray bursts to find out how common such bright bursts are. The answer is that a similar eruption only happens once every 10,000 years.

Artist’s impression of a giant gamma-ray burst in October 2022: a black hole spewing jets of matter into space that emit X-rays and gamma-rays (colored in purple). © IMAGO / Cover Images

In fact, the gamma-ray burst that occurred in October 2022 was so bright that most gamma-ray instruments in space were blinded and unable to directly record the exact intensity of the radiation. But scientists from the United States, China and Russia jointly reconstructed and analyzed the epidemic. Investigations revealed that the gamma-ray burst was 70 times brighter than anything previously observed. Eric Burns described the volcanic eruption as “extremely brutal” at a press conference and explained that it was absolutely unprecedented.

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Various telescopes provide data on the gamma ray burst

Various data sources were used to analyze the explosion, including the NICER X-ray telescope on the International Space Station (ISS) and data from NASA’s old Voyager 1 spacecraft in interstellar space. One Focus topic of the specialized journal Astrophysical Journal Letters Many studies are published on this topic.

It’s just an absolutely terrible explosion. We’ve never seen anything remotely comparable.

The researchers calculated that it took the signal from GRB 221009A 1.9 billion years to reach Earth. It is believed to be the black hole’s “birth cry”, formed when the core of a massive star collapsed under its gravity. The newly formed black hole rapidly attracts the matter around it and shoots jets of matter (the so-called jets) into space in opposite directions. Particles in the jets are accelerated to nearly the speed of light, emitting X-rays and gamma rays as they hurtle through space.

Gamma ray burst in the fall of 2022: A plane is pointed directly at Earth

In reality, the jets weren’t unusually powerful, but one was pointed straight at the ground, explains Kate Alexander of the University of Arizona in Tucson. The more you look at the plane from the front, the brighter it appears. “Because this explosion was so close and so bright, it gave us an unprecedented opportunity to collect observations of afterglows across the electromagnetic spectrum and test how well our models represent what’s really going on in the GRBs,” Alexander continues. Alexander knows that for 25 years, models of gamma ray burst afterglows have been doing exceptionally well. “But they can’t fully explain this plane.”

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After a gamma ray burst, researchers expect a supernova to occur

The researchers involved are also interested in something else: When a gamma-ray burst like the one in October 2022 occurs, astronomers usually expect a bright supernova a few weeks later — but nothing has been detected so far. “Given the magnitude of the explosion, it’s surprising that we can’t say for sure whether or not there was a supernova,” explains astrophysicist Andrew Levan of Radboud University in Nijmegen, the Netherlands.

NASA's XMM-Newton telescope captured 20 dust rings, 19 of which are visible in this image.  The image combines observations made two and five days after the eruption of GRB 221009A.
The ESA XMM-Newton telescope recorded 20 dust rings, 19 of which can be seen in this image. The image combines observations made two and five days after the eruption of GRB 221009A. © IMAGO / Cover Images

Both the James Webb Space Telescope and Hubble have been used to find the predicted supernova. However, the search has not been successful so far because the supernova may be too faint to be detected by telescopes. However, there is also the possibility that the entire star collapsed into the black hole rather than exploding. In order to further investigate the situation, further observations using the two space telescopes are planned.

A research team recently discovered a supermassive black hole – it has more than 30 billion solar masses.

This article was generated with the help of machines and was carefully vetted by Editor Tanja Banner prior to publication.