With Diwali coming, it appears as if contagious joy has swept throughout the universe. The most intense gamma-ray burst ever measured was just detected, and the aftermath looks like the colorful fireworks that will light up the skies this holiday season.
On October 9, our solar system was bombarded with a massive burst of X-rays and gamma rays, leaving astronomers throughout the world startled. The event, which is assumed to have been produced by a massive supernova explosion that gave birth to a black hole, happened some 2.4 billion light-years away from Earth, in the direction of the constellation Sagitta.
While the event is officially known as the GRB 221009A, it has been nicknamed B.O.A.T. (brightest of all time) in a true millennial fashion. And, before we get into the details, let’s try to figure out what caused this tremendous explosion.
GRBs are the most energetic sort of electromagnetic explosion known to exist in the universe, second only to the Big Bang. Such GRBs are caused by supernovae, the collapse, and the explosion of huge stars.
A supernova must be at least eight times the size of our Sun to develop. However, the star must have been at least 30-40 times the size of our Sun for this magnitude of explosion!
What’s more, its light traveled at roughly the same speed as the light for an estimated 1.9 billion years before reaching Earth (less than the current distance of its starting point, considering how the universe is expanding).
Furthermore, the morning burst on October 9th was the most powerful ever seen, generating 18 teraelectronvolts of energy. Even CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest and highest-energy particle collider, can only generate energies of 13 teraelectronvolts. While the data is still being evaluated, if confirmed, this GRB would be the first to transmit more than ten trillion electronvolts of energy.
Within thousands of light-years of Earth, a GRB of this magnitude could easily obliterate the planet’s protective ozone layer, causing a global extinction comparable to the Ordovician extinction 450 million years ago. This GRB, on the other hand, happened at a safe distance from Earth, removing any serious risks while simultaneously providing us with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see it.
The cosmic explosion was discovered by multiple X-ray and gamma-ray space telescopes, including NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory, and the Wind satellite.
When the historic explosion was detected, two separate teams of astronomers, one from George Washington University and the other from Northwestern University set out to gather data about it. For the first observation, the FLAMINGOS-2 imaging spectograph was employed, and for the second, the Gemini Multi-Object Spectograph was used.
Meanwhile, the GRB 221009A is so brilliant that scientists will be able to observe it with telescopes for months, giving them plenty of time to study it.
“Because of its brightness, we expect to be able to observe the GRB for several months. It is still in its early phases, and with each passing observation, we are learning more. Unfortunately, it will only be visible for about a month before it is obscured by the Sun.
When the GRB emerges from solar conjunction early next year, we will be happy to see it as a clumsy ‘baby.’ Then we’ll be prepared to film it.” Northwestern University astronomer Wen-fai Fong stated:
Lightning monitors in India and Germany, according to astrophysicist Rami Mandow, revealed that the way pulses of electromagnetic radiation from lightning transmitted abruptly changed at the same time the GRB energy arrived on our planet. These demonstrate that conditions in the Earth’s upper atmosphere changed, causing electrons to be abruptly expelled from their host atoms.
Because gamma rays ionize atoms in this way, it appears that this bombardment physically harmed our planet’s atmosphere, albeit in a minor and transient way. Even from two billion light-years distant, that is still an astonishing phenomenon.
Though tremendous progress has been made since then, particularly since the 1990s, when the first was spotted with optical telescopes and their distances were determined to be truly cosmic, there is still much about them that we do not understand. GRB 221009A is still being observed by telescopes throughout the world, and it may hold the key to understanding these vastly distinct, unexpected, and intense occurrences.
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