Astronomers around the world are dazzled by the brilliant, long-lasting pulse of high-energy radiation that swept across Earth on Sunday, October 9. The emission came from a gamma-ray burst (GRB) – the most powerful class of explosions in the universe – which ranks among the brightest known events.
On Sunday morning ET, a wave of X-rays and gamma rays It passed through the solar system, powering the detectors aboard NASA’s Fermi Gamma Ray Space Telescope, the Neil Gehrells Swift Observatory, and the Wind spacecraft, among others. Telescopes around the world have turned to the site for further study, and new observations continue.
is called GRB 221009A, and Explosion It made an unexpectedly exciting start to the 10th Fermi Symposium, a gathering of gamma-ray astronomers now taking place in Johannesburg, South Africa. “It’s safe to say that this meeting really started with great fanfare — everyone is talking about this,” said Jodi Rakusen, Fermi deputy project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who is attending the conference.
The signal, which originated from the direction of the constellation Sagitta, would have traveled an estimated 1.9 billion years to reach Earth. Astronomers believe that it represents the cry of the birth of a new black hole, formed in the core of a massive star that collapsed under its own weight. Under these conditions, the emerging black hole drives powerful jets of particles approaching the speed of light. Jets penetrate the star, emitting X-rays and gamma rays as they flow through space.
The explosion also provided a much-anticipated inaugural observational opportunity to link two experiments on the International Space Station – NASA’s Neisser X-ray Telescope and a Japanese detector called the Observer All-Sky X-ray Image (MAXI). The connection was activated in April, dubbed the High Power Orbital Monitor Alert Network (OHMAN). It allows NICER to quickly turn to eruptions detected by MAXI, actions that previously required the intervention of scientists on Earth.
“Uman provided an automated alert that enabled NICER to follow up within three hours, once the source became visible to the telescope,” said Zaven Arzumanian, NICER science lead at Goddard. “Future opportunities can lead to response times of a few minutes.”
Light from this ancient explosion brings new insights into stellar collapse, the birth of a black hole, the behavior and interaction of matter near the speed of light, conditions in a distant galaxy, and much more. Another GRB may not appear this bright for decades.
According to a preliminary analysis, the Fermi Large Telescope (LAT) detected the explosion for more than 10 hours. One reason for the explosion’s brightness and longevity is that relative to GRB, it is relatively close to us.
said Roberta Pellera, a Fermi LAT Collaboration member who led the initial communications about the explosion and a Ph.D. student at the Polytechnic University in Bari, Italy. “But it’s also among the most energetic and brightest explosions ever, regardless of distance, which makes it doubly exciting.”
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