Oct 17, 2022 - Science

Gamma Ray Burst may be most powerful yet seen in space

The Gamma Ray Burst (center, bright red). Photo: International Gemini Observatory/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA/B. O'Connor (UMD/GWU) & J. Rastinejad & W Fong (Northwestern Univ)

Scientists detected what could be the most powerful explosion of its kind ever seen in space.

Why it matters: These Gamma Ray Bursts (GRB) are a window into some of the most cataclysmic events in the universe — they emit massive amounts of energy that ripple across the cosmos.

  • "Because this burst is so bright and also nearby, we think this is a once-in-a-century opportunity to address some of the most fundamental questions regarding these explosions, from the formation of black holes to tests of dark matter models," Brendan O'Connor, a leader of teams observing the GRB said in a statement.

What's happening: Space telescopes detected the GRB, called GRB 221009A, on Oct. 9 with ground-based telescopes making followup observations of the event's aftermath.

  • Researchers think the GRB was triggered by a star exploding in a supernova and in the process creating a black hole 2.4 billion light-years away.
  • The GRB was so intense scientists think it even disrupted Earth's ionosphere, affecting long-wave radio transmissions.

The intrigue: Relatively nearby GRBs may also help scientists learn more about how elements heavier than iron — like gold and others — form in the universe.

  • Earlier research found these elements can form when dense neutron stars collide with one another, spreading the heavy elements across the universe.
  • But scientists think they might also be created during events like the one that produced this GRB.
  • Followup observations made using the Gemini South Telescope in Chile will allow researchers to parse out more about whether those elements were created during this event, O'Connor added.
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