Gamma-ray burst may represent the most powerful cosmic explosion ever recorded


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How the Swift observatory saw the gamma-ray burst GRB221009A, which may be the most energetic emission of this kind ever seen by astronomers. (Image credit: NASA/Swift/A. Beardmore (University of Leicester))

 A dazzling burst of high-energy light that may be the most powerful cosmic explosion ever seen has been seen by astronomers.


The instant a fading star crashes into a black hole, sparking a massive supernova explosion, is likely represented by the high-energy emission known as a gamma-ray burst (GRB), the most potent blast observed in our universe since the Big Bang.


On October 9, gamma-ray and X-ray telescopes, including NASA's Swift Observatory and Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, discovered the extraordinary outburst, officially known as GRB 221009A. Numerous further detections over the next few days were made due to the earliest detection, which prompted teams of astronomers from all over the world to rush to examine the cosmic explosion's aftermath. As a result, the outbreak has now earned the loving moniker "the B.O.A.T.," which stands for the brightest of all time, from astronomers. GRB 221009A is estimated to be at least ten times more luminous than past extremely intense GRBs, according to Jillian Rastinejad of Northwestern University, whose team discovered the burst on October 14.


Rastinejad referred to the enormous underground particle accelerator built by CERN as the "Large Hadron Collider (LHC)" and added, "Photons have been found from this GRB that has more energy than the LHC generates." While the LHC can create energy as high as 13 TeV, or 13 trillion electron volts, she said, GRB 221009A released photons with energies of at least 18 TeV, potentially considerably higher.


Multiple satellites spotted GRB221009A, which was so intense that it repeatedly "triggered" Swift (NASA's gamma-ray detection spacecraft), although typically, GRBs only do so once. Tong Wen-fai "At first, we thought it may have been a transient within our Galaxy—the family of emitters to which GRBs belong. The community could quantify the distance, though, and they determined that the GRB was extragalactic and exceedingly brilliant. Things picked up steam at this point."



Going out with a bang


GRB 221009A, which can be found 2.4 billion light-years away from Earth in the direction of the constellation Sagitta, is believed to be the consequence of a massive star exploding supernova at the end of its life.


These kinds of GRBs are frequently linked to star collapse, which happens when a giant star exhausts its nuclear fusion fuel and can no longer maintain itself against gravitational collapse. A supernova, a tremendous cosmic explosion, is also started by this mechanism.


This violent and powerful explosion would have left behind a neutron star — a collapsed star core that packs about a sun's-worth of mass into a ball no wider than a city — or even a black hole. At the moment, however, scientists have yet to confirm the origins of GRB 221009A.

A neutron star, which is a collapsed star core that packs approximately a sun's worth of material into a ball barely more significant than a city, or even a black hole, would have been left behind by this dramatic and destructive explosion. However, scientists have not yet been able to determine the origins of GRB 221009A.


 An image of the gamma-ray burst GRB221009A, which may be the most powerful cosmic explosion ever sighted by astronomers(Image credit: International Gemini Observatory/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA/B. O'Connor (UMD/GWU) &
J. Rastinejad & W. Fong (Northwestern University))

According to Brendan O'Connor, a University of Maryland/George Washington University observational astronomer who led another team that discovered the GRB, "GRB221009A was likely caused by the collapse of a massive star with up to 30 times the mass of our sun based on the massive energy released and long duration of the explosion." "Finding a supernova after the GRB is required to confirm the huge star explosion. Currently, we are searching for this supernova and utilizing the Gemini observatory to discover preliminary proof."


The scientists involved in the discovery of GRB 221009A are also unsure why this particular GRB is so bright and energetic, Fong said.


Months of GRB data to come

GRB 221009A is so brilliant that it won't be seen without a telescope for months, giving researchers time to analyze it. Even amateur astronomers have been participating in GRB observations, according to Rastinejad, but future research will soon come to an end.

She added that GRB 221009A would come so close to the sun by the end of November that we won't be able to observe it with telescopes any more. So it's somewhat of a shame that there will be a time between December and the middle of February 2023 when we won't know what's happening.

The astronomical community will be able to continue monitoring the GRB 221009A's afterglow to restrict the jet opening angle of the GRB and determine its natural energy when it emerges from the opposite side of the sun.

O'Connor thinks that in the upcoming months, it may be possible to learn more about the origins of GRB 221009A by watching it at various light wavelengths.

However, for now, O'Connor said, "we are just thrilled to be watching history in this once-in-a-century eruption. The complete dataset will require a careful study and interpretation."

GRB 221009A will be used to solve several mysteries, including one that may help astronomers understand where the heavy components in the cosmos are produced.

This GRB serves as an unparalleled laboratory to test the hypothesis that the most intense GRBs might be the birthplace of some of the universe's heavy components, according to Fong.


The research group hopes to discover if supernovas may produce heavy metals like gold.


As a result, they will analyze the light spectra of objects that the supernova that gave rise to GRB 221009A shot into space.

Looking for these "fingerprints" in the spectra from this recent supernova might show the existence of recently created heavy elements since chemical components absorb and emit light at specific wavelengths.

What's not to love? GRBs are the most severe explosions in the cosmos, Fong said. They can serve as a good laboratory for the most extreme events in the cosmos since they are energetic and develop quickly.

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