On October 9, an unusually bright and persistent pulse of high-energy radiation swept past Earth, attracting the attention of astronomers around the world.The intense radiation comes from gamma-ray bursts — the most powerful class of explosions in the universe — which are among the most dazzling events known.
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A week ago, on Sunday morning EST, a wave of X-rays and gamma rays passed through the solar system. It triggered detectors on NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, the Neil Gales-Swift Observatory and the Wind spacecraft, among other devices. Around the world, telescopes have been turned to the site to study the consequences, and new observations are continuing.
The explosion, known as GRB 221009A, provided an unexpectedly exciting start to the tenth Fermi Symposium, a gathering of gamma-ray astronomers in Johannesburg, South Africa. “Suffice to say, this meeting really kicked off with a bang — everybody’s been talking about this,” said Judy Racusin, a Fermi associate project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who attended the meeting. .”
The signal originates in the direction of the constellation Sagitta and is estimated to have taken 1.9 billion years to reach Earth. Many astronomers believe it represents the birth cries of a new black hole that forms at the center of a massive star and collapses under its own weight. In this case, a developing black hole drives a powerful jet of particles traveling at nearly the speed of light. These high-energy jets penetrate the star, emitting X-rays and gamma rays as they travel into space.
The burst also provided a long-awaited glimpse into two experiments aboard the International Space Station (ISS) — NASA’s NICER X-ray telescope and a detector in Japan called the All-weather X-ray Image Monitor (MAXI). First Observation Opportunity. Launched in April, the connection is known as the Orbital High Energy Monitoring Alert Network (OHMAN). It enables NICER to quickly turn to outbreaks detected by MAXI, actions that previously required the intervention of scientists on the ground.
Zaven Arzoumanian, Goddard’s NICER science lead, said: “OHMAN provides an automated alert that enables NICER to follow up within three hours, as long as the telescope can see the source. Future opportunities may result in a response time of several minutes. .”
The light from this ancient explosion has brought valuable new insights into the collapse of stars, the birth of black holes, the behavior and interactions of matter near the speed of light, conditions in distant galaxies — and more. Astronomers may not detect such bright GRBs again for decades.
According to preliminary analysis, Fermi’s Large Area Telescope (LAT) detected the burst for more than 10 hours. One of the reasons for this burst’s particular brightness and duration is that, as a GRB, it’s relatively close to us.
Roberta Pillera, a doctoral student at the Polytechnic University of Bari in Italy, said: “This burst is much closer than a typical GRB, which is exciting because it allows us to detect many details that would otherwise be too dim to see. But It’s also one of the most energetic and brightest bursts ever seen, no matter the distance, which makes it doubly exciting.”