Gamma-ray bursts, the most intense type of cosmic outburst ever discovered, are thought to have been caused when a massive star collapsed into a black hole. When it comes to cosmic explosions, Gamma Ray Bursts (GRBs) are right up there with the Big Bang event that is supposed to have formed the universe. Most GRBs, according to astronomers’ best guesses, occur when a large star collapses inward at the conclusion of its life, unable to sustain its nuclear fusion reaction.
The formation of a black hole is signaled by this stunning implosion, during which the freshly formed singularity shoots forth jets of gamma radiation that, traveling at nearly the speed of light, can glow a million trillion times greater than the Sun. When the fast-moving jets smash with the clouds of gas expelled by the dead star, a torrent of X-ray radiation is unleashed. On Sunday, October 9, a massive surge of gamma rays and X-rays flooded over the solar system, setting off detectors aboard NASA’s fleet of orbiting spacecraft and indicating the occurrence of an exceptionally intense gamma-ray burst.
As soon as the explosion, named GRB 221009A, was discovered, astronomers from all around the world sprang into action, focusing some of the most powerful telescopes on the remnants of the blast. The work was also assisted by a variety of orbiting spacecraft, such as NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope and the Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory.
In total, the sharp robotic eyes caught the growing optical, infrared, gamma, and X-ray signature of the explosion. A few hundred seconds in duration, the signal came from a direction around 2.4 billion light-years from Earth, in the general direction of the constellation Sagitta. These preliminary measurements suggest that GRB 221009A is the brightest GRB ever recorded in the modern era, maybe by a factor of 10.