NASA observes largest gamma ray burst in history

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While Earth is an incredibly hospitable environment for life, the rest of the universe is hostile in a myriad of ways. However, observing these phenomena offers us an incredible opportunity to better understand the processes by which everything else forms. Giving us a way to better understand our origin and formation. Astronomers look at all lengths, but specifically in the ultraviolet we find several of the most powerful events, such as gamma-ray bursts.

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Digital representation of the process through which the ejected material passes during Gamma-ray burst events. Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

Gamma-ray burst (GRB)

Higher mass stars require proportionally large amounts of fuel to sustain nuclear fusion. After astronomically short lifetimes, the energy source runs out. This is known as stellar death and leads to the famous supernovae. The loss of stability and equilibrium between gravity and electromagnetic pressure produces large emissions of light at all wavelengths.. One of the most outstanding are gamma rays, which have such intensity that they are capable of breaking whole molecules and tearing off all electron shells.

One for every 10,000 years

On October 9, 2022, a large pulse of radiation reached the solar system.. From the first measurements it was certain to be the most energetic ever recorded. The signal was detected by hundreds of instruments on and off Earth, from small observatories to space probes. In a worldwide collaboration, all these data were brought together to provide a more detailed overview of the event.

Researchers believe it is not only the most energetic event we have recorded, but since the first human civilizations appeared. The event called GRB 221009A; so named because it was a gamma-ray burst and its detection date far exceeded the maximum limit of several detectors.  

The image shows a composite of several images taken two and five days after the event. It shows the rings in arbitrary colors. Credits: ESA/XMM-Newton/M. Rigoselli (INAF)


The phenomenon also opened the door to observing debris at other wavelengths. For example, ESA's XMM-Newton telescope and an X-ray telescope from NASA found a series of echoeswhich were produced by twenty-one different dust clouds. This is evidenced as a series of rings visible from Earth. Studying the emissions of the material may allow reconstructing the events that occurred during the peak of the gamma-ray burst.

Combined with data from the IXPE observatory, they are also studying the influences of the supernova's remnant black hole on the ejected material. The latter shoots out at high velocity, however, an amplification in the magnetic field must be taken into account in the theoretical models to find a match with the observations. It is desired to be able to understand how much energy black holes can offer to the universe, contrary to the common idea of being machines that trap everything in their path.

Francisco Andrés Forero Daza