Astronomers announced on Friday (12) that they had identified the “largest cosmic explosion” ever observed, A ball of energy 100 times the size of our solar system.
Scientists believe they have the most likely explanation for the phenomenon, but stress that more research is needed to truly understand it.
Despite this, the explosion, classified as AT2021lwx, was not the brightest ever observed. This record belongs to a gamma ray burst (electromagnetic explosion of a supernova) certified as GRB221009A, which was discovered in October 2022 and defined as the “brightest of all time”.
The AT2021lwx’s new blowout happened, in fact, three years ago. Monthly notifications from Britain’s Royal Astronomical Society describe it as the largest because in that time period it released far more energy than a gamma-ray burst.
“It was an accidental discovery,” lead author Philip Wiseman, an astrophysicist at Britain’s University of Southampton, told AFP.
The explosion was detected spontaneously in 2020 by the US Zwicky Transient Facility Observatory in California. But the phenomenon was “stored in the observatory’s database”, according to Weissmann, before scientists studied it in depth a year later.
“It was the direct observation of the phenomenon that revealed its true dimensions. Analysis of the light received allowed us to calculate that it took 8 billion years to reach the telescope.”
“a real mystery”
Astronomers are still debating the cause of this phenomenon. It could be a supernova, the explosion of a massive star at the end of its cycle. But in this new phenomenon, the luminosity is 10 times greater.
Another possibility is that the rupture occurred due to what is known as Tidal effect Where a star is torn apart by the gravitational force of a black hole that gets too close.
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But in this case, the AT2021lwx is three times brighter for that possibility to be real.
The explosion, in fact, can only be compared to quasars, which are galaxies with a supermassive black hole inside them that emits a huge amount of light and energy.
But the light from quasars is sporadic, while in AT2021lwx the beam has increased sharply over the past three years.
“We’ve never seen anything like this before (…). It came from we don’t know where,” says Wiseman.
The astrophysics team presented a first theory: a huge cloud of gas the size of 5,000 suns is being devoured by a supermassive black hole.
But the team is still working to prove whether the theory is correct. “Quite reasonable.”
The problem is that scientists assume that supermassive black holes lie at the center of the galaxy. What’s more, the AT2021lwx phenomenon is roughly the size of the Milky Way galaxy.
But there is no galaxy around. “It’s a real mystery,” Philip Wiseman notes.
For now, it remains to continue observing the sky and analyzing databases to try to detect a similar phenomenon.
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