The ‘brightest’ gamma-ray burst sets off a supernova hunt

In the morning on October 9, astronomers inboxed a relatively modest warning: NASA’s Swift Observatory just detected a new burst of energy, believed to be coming from somewhere in the sky. our galaxy. But six hours later – when scientists realized an instrument on the Fermi Space Telescope had also flagged the event – another, more urgent email arrived. “We believe this source is now likely to be a gamma-ray burst,” it read. “This would suggest a burst of high energy and therefore we strongly encourage monitoring.” In other words, this is a career-making opportunity to capture a rare celestial event in real time.

Astronomers around the world got into action. They eagerly pointed their telescopes at this powerful explosion of the most energetic photons in our universe. “And by jet, I mean like an emitting spark,” said Wen-fai Fong, an astrophysicist at Northwestern University. Explosions like these are thought to be caused by supernovas of massive stars, the destructive collapses that are born. black hole. The explosion, dubbed GRB 221009A, erupted about 2 billion light-years away in the constellation Sagitta — one of the closest and most energetic explosions ever observed — and is likely a in sparks that happened to be pointed directly at the Earth. Together, these elements create a at least 10 times brighter than all others detected in the three decades since such outbursts were discovered, leading some astronomers to name it “BOY” – the brightest of all time .

“I kept thinking, is this real? Because if it does, it’s an extremely rare, once-in-a-lifetime kind of event,” Fong said. She and others are painstakingly collecting data that they hope will confirm that the rays are indeed coming from a supernova, and help them isolate which stellar properties lead to an energetic explosion. so and how much collapsing matter was spewed out by the infant. black hole. (Theory muses has started appearing on the arXiv preprint server.)

While supernova detection is fairly common now, it’s rare to catch one associated with a gamma-ray burst — they’re often too faint to show because they’re so far away and only a fraction of supernovae are found. The real planet produces these explosions. But because the explosion is so intense, scientists hope to see the supernova very clearly. “It really revitalized the community,” Fong said. “All telescope holders, even if they don’t normally study gamma-ray bursts, are trying to point their detectors at this point to get the most complete data set we can. .”

The gamma rays from the explosion were recorded for several hundred seconds. This is followed by a series of lower-energy photons, including X-rays, optical and infrared light, and radio waves. It’s the bright light that astronomers at ground-based telescopes aspire to capture, because observing how the flux of photons changes over time will help them characterize the species. the stars that produce such explosions, the mechanism that produces these explosions, and the resulting environment they create. These insights could shed light on what effect gamma-ray bursts might have on future generations of stars and determine whether stellar death could give us life on Earth. not by creating heavy elements that can heat up the planet’s interior and help maintain its magnetic field.

Because the emission spans nearly all wavelengths of light, it can be observed by various instruments, which has turned the gamma-ray burst detection event into a global scientific event. The satellites orbit like NASA’s NuSTAR is measuring its high-energy X-rays, while sites like Compact array of the Australian Telescope was collecting the radio emissions of the explosion. “If we don’t get the data one night, we can guarantee that someone will,” said Jillian Rastinejad, a PhD student at Northwestern who worked with Fong. Together, they are leading observations of the visible light from the explosion using Gemini Male telescope in Chile, the data will be supplemented by measurements from Lowell Discovery Telescope in Arizona, South Korea Bohyunsun Optical Astronomy Observatoryand of India Devastating Fast Optical Telescope. Even James Webb . Space Telescope got in on the action, as scientists reported on the bright light observed in the infrared last Friday.


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