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Several telescopes detect a powerful gamma-ray burst

(CNN) – Multiple telescopes in space and on Earth experienced one of the brightest explosions in space on October 9. The explosion may be one of the most powerful bursts ever recorded by telescopes.

Gamma ray bursts, or GRBs, are the most powerful class of explosions in the universe, according to NASA. Scientists have dubbed this explosion GRB 221009A, and telescopes around the world continue to monitor its effects.

“The exceptionally long GRB 221009A is the brightest GRB ever recorded, and its afterglow beats all records at all wavelengths,” said Brendan O’Connor, a doctoral student at the University of Maryland and the University of Maryland. Washington in a statement.

The Neil Gehrells Fast Observatory captured the afterglow of the gamma-ray burst on October 9. The bright rings are X-rays scattered by layers of dust within our galaxy. Credit: NASA/Swift/A. Birdmoor University of Leicester

“Because this explosion is so bright and so close, we believe this is a once-in-a-century opportunity to answer some of the most fundamental questions about these explosions, from the formation of black holes to the testing of dark matter.”

Scientists believe that the long, bright pulse occurred when a massive star in the constellation Sagitta, about 2.4 billion light-years away, collapsed in a supernova explosion and became a black hole. The star may have been the mass of our sun many times over.

Gamma rays and X-rays passed through the Solar System, powering detectors on NASA’s Fermi Gamma Ray Space Telescope, the Neil Gerels Swift Observatory, and the Wind spacecraft, as well as ground-based telescopes such as the Gemini South telescope in Chile. .

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Newborn black holes eject powerful jets of particles that can move at close to the speed of light, releasing radiation in the form of X-rays and gamma rays. After billions of years of space travel, a black hole explosion finally reached our corner of the universe last week.

Studying an event like this could reveal more details about collapsing stars, how matter interacts near the speed of light, and what conditions might be under in distant galaxies. Astronomers estimate that we will not see a gamma-ray burst of this brightness again for decades.

The source of the explosion appears far away, but in astronomical terms, it is relatively close to Earth, which is why it was so bright and lasted so long. The Fermi telescope monitored the explosion for more than 10 hours.

gamma rays

The Gemini South Telescope captured this image of the aftermath of the explosion.
Credit: NOIRLab/NSF International Gemini Observatory

O’Connor was the leader of a team that used the Gemini South Telescope in Chile, which is operated by the National Science Foundation’s National Optical and Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory, or NOIRLab, to monitor the results on October 14.

“In our research group, we refer to this explosion as ‘BOAT’, or the brightest of all, because when you look at the thousands of bursts that have been detected by gamma-ray telescopes since 1990, this explosion stands out,” said Jillian Rastingad, a doctoral student at Northwestern University. in Illinois who led a second team using Gemini South.

Astronomers will use their observations to analyze the fingerprints of any heavy elements released by the collapsing star.

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The bright explosion also provided an opportunity for two instruments aboard the International Space Station: the NICER X-ray Telescope (or Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer) and Japan’s All-Sky X-ray Imaging Screen, or MAXI. The two devices are collectively called the Orbital High Energy Monitor Monitor Alert Network, or OHMAN.

It was the first time that the two instruments, which were installed on the space station in April, were able to work together to detect a gamma-ray burst, meaning the NICER telescope was able to spot GRB 221009A three hours after its discovery.

“Future opportunities can have turnaround times of a few minutes,” Zaven Arzumanian, chief scientist for NICER at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said in a statement.