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A gamma-ray burst - possibly the brightest of all time - is sweeping Earth

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The world is zapped.

On Sunday, a gamma-ray burst (GRB), the most powerful class of explosion in the universe, caused a gamma-ray wave and X-rays to sweep Earth. It was also the brightest explosion ever recorded, possibly the brightest of nature. The incident was reported on Astronomers Telegram.

In a breathless press release, NASA highlighted that detectors all over the planet have captured it, including NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, the Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory, and the Wind spacecraft.

Gamma ray bursts are some of the most powerful energy releases in the universe. The reasons may vary slightly, but are typically related to black holes. Some can occur when a merging of neutron stars forms a black hole, or when a neutron star and a black hole merge. Because they are so energetic, even a gamma-ray burst occurring on the other side of the universe can often be detected by astronomers on Earth.

Gamma rays are the most energetic photons in the electromagnetic spectrum, much stronger than x-rays and can cause cancer at high exposure. Outer space is full of gamma rays, but very few of them reach Earth’s surface because the atmosphere absorbs most of them before they can harm us.

However, a large enough gamma-ray burst could theoretically rob the planet of its atmosphere and cause a mass extinction. Indeed, roughly 443 million years ago, the Ordovician extinction is believed to have been caused by a gamma-ray burst. Fortunately for modern humans, no GRB in recent memory has been close enough to Earth to have this effect. About 30 percent of these are short bursts lasting just a few seconds, while the rest usually only last a few minutes.

GRBs were first discovered by chance by scientists in the 1960s, and even then they realized that these bursts produced as much energy as our sun would have produced in its 10-billion-year lifetime. In this latest event, the explosive event, now officially designated GRB 221009A, traveled about 1.9 billion light-years to reach Earth and appeared as it came from the direction of the constellation Sagitta. Coincidentally, it came at the same time gamma-ray astronomers were meeting for the 10th Fermi Symposium in the South African city of Johannesburg. It goes without saying that they were influenced by the symbolically rich timing.

“It’s safe to say that this meeting started with a really big bang – everybody’s talking about it,” said Judy Racusin, assistant project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, who attended the conference.


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Preliminary analyzes show that Fermi’s Wide Field Telescope (LAT), a space telescope, was able to detect the radiation pulse for about 10 hours. Astronomers believe the pulse originates from a new black hole created as a massive star collapsing under its own weight. As a result, astronomers believe the information obtained by measuring this radioactive pulse could provide new insights into how black holes form and the dynamics involved in a star’s collapse, among many other things.

Because it is believed to release 18 teraelectronvolts of energy, scientists are poised to call it a precedent setter, as no previous gamma-ray burst is known to have exceeded 10 teraelectronvolts.

“This eruption is much closer than typical GRBs, which is exciting because it allows us to detect many details that are too faint to see otherwise,” said Roberta Pillera, a member of the Fermi LAT Collaboration and a PhD student at the Polytechnic University of Bari, Italy. in a press release about the explosion. “But it’s also among the most energetic and bright blasts ever seen, regardless of distance, making it twice as exciting.”

Several media outlets that covered the explosion described the explosion in historical terms. Because it is believed to release 18 teraelectronvolts of energy, scientists are poised to call it a precedent setter, as no previous gamma-ray burst is known to have exceeded 10 teraelectronvolts. Space.com described it as “the most powerful flash of light ever seen”, while Phys.org described it as possibly “the most powerful explosion ever recorded”. Jillian Rastinejad, a graduate student at Northwestern University who led one of two independent teams using the Chilean Gemini South telescope to study the event, described the event as “‘THE BOAT,’ or Brightest of All Time, because when you look at thousands of them, gamma-ray telescopes have detected it since the 1990s. The number of explosions is different from these others.”

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