Astronomers reveal the biggest cosmic explosion ever seen

Might 12, 2023 (Nanowerk Information) A group of astronomers led by the College of Southampton have uncovered the biggest cosmic explosion ever witnessed. The explosion is greater than ten occasions brighter than any identified supernova and 3 times brighter than the brightest tidal disruption occasion, the place a star falls right into a supermassive black gap. The explosion, referred to as AT2021lwx, has at the moment lasted over three years, in comparison with most supernovae that are solely visibly vivid for a number of months. It befell almost 8 billion gentle years away, when the universe was round 6 billion years outdated, and continues to be being detected by a community of telescopes. Artist impression of a black hole accretion Artist impression of a black gap accretion. (Picture: John A. Paice) The researchers imagine that the explosion is a results of an unlimited cloud of fuel, presumably hundreds of occasions bigger than our solar, that has been violently disrupted by a supermassive black gap. Fragments of the cloud can be swallowed up, sending shockwaves via its remnants, in addition to into a big dusty ‘doughnut’ surrounding the black gap. Such occasions are very uncommon and nothing on this scale has been witnessed earlier than. Final 12 months, astronomers witnessed the brightest explosion on report – a gamma-ray burst referred to as GRB 221009A. Whereas this was brighter than AT2021lwx, it lasted for only a fraction of the time, that means the general vitality launched by the AT2021lwx explosion is way better. The findings of the analysis have been printed in Month-to-month Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (“Multiwavelength observations of the extraordinary accretion occasion AT2021lwx”).


AT2021lwx was first detected in 2020 by the Zwicky Transient Facility in California, and subsequently picked up by the Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Final Alert System (ATLAS) primarily based in Hawaii. These amenities survey the evening sky to detect transient objects that quickly change in brightness indicating cosmic occasions comparable to supernovae, in addition to discovering asteroids and comets. Till now the size of the explosion has been unknown. “We stumbled on this by likelihood, because it was flagged by our search algorithm after we have been trying to find a sort of supernova,” says Dr Philip Wiseman, Analysis Fellow on the College of Southampton, who led the analysis. “Most supernovae and tidal disruption occasions solely final for a few months earlier than fading away. For one thing to be vivid for 2 plus years was instantly very uncommon.” The group investigated the article additional with a number of completely different telescopes: the Neil Gehrels Swift Telescope (a collaboration between NASA, the UK and Italy), the New Expertise Telescope (operated by the European Southern Observatory) in Chile, and the Gran Telescopio Canarias in La Palma, Spain.

Measuring the explosion

By analysing the spectrum of the sunshine, splitting it up into completely different wavelengths and measuring the completely different absorption and emission options of the spectrum, the group have been capable of measure the gap to the article. “As soon as you recognize the gap to the article and the way vivid it seems to us, you’ll be able to calculate the brightness of the article at its supply. As soon as we’d carried out these calculations, we realised that is extraordinarily vivid,” says Professor Sebastian Hönig from the College of Southampton, a co-author of the analysis. The one issues within the universe which can be as vivid as AT2021lwx are quasars – supermassive black holes with a continuing movement of fuel falling onto them at excessive velocity. Professor Mark Sullivan, additionally of the College of Southampton and one other co-author of the paper, explains: “With a quasar, we see the brightness flickering up and down over time. However trying again over a decade there was no detection of AT2021lwx, then instantly it seems with the brightness of the brightest issues within the universe, which is unprecedented.”

What brought about the explosion?

There are completely different theories as to what might have brought about such an explosion, however the Southampton-led group imagine probably the most possible clarification is a particularly massive cloud of fuel (largely hydrogen) or mud that has come off track from its orbit across the black gap and been despatched flying in. The group are actually getting down to gather extra knowledge on the explosion – measuring completely different wavelengths, together with X-rays which might reveal the article’s floor and temperature, and what underlying processes are happening. They may even perform upgraded computational simulations to check if these match their principle of what brought about the explosion. Dr Philip Wiseman added: “With new amenities, just like the Vera Rubin Observatory’s Legacy Survey of Area and Time, coming on-line within the subsequent few years, we hope to find extra occasions like this and be taught extra about them. It may very well be that these occasions, though extraordinarily uncommon, are so energetic that they’re key processes to how the centres of galaxies change over time.”

Related Articles


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Latest Articles