Earth was just zapped by the biggest gamma-ray burst of all time

Earth was just zapped by the biggest gamma-ray burst of all time

The Earth has just been zapped.

On Sunday, a gamma-ray burst (GRB), the most powerful class of explosion in the universe, caused the Earth to be swept away by a wave of gamma rays and X-rays. It was also the brightest, perhaps- to be the brightest outburst of his nature ever recorded. The event was reported in the Astronomers Telegram.

In a breathless press release, NASA pointed out that their detectors all over the planet have picked up on this, including NASA’s Fermi Gamma Ray Space Telescope, the Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory and the Wind spacecraft.

Gamma-ray bursts are among the most powerful releases of energy in the universe. Their causes can vary slightly, but are generally related to black holes. Some can be caused when neutron star mergers create a black hole, or when a neutron star and a black hole merge. Because they are so energetic, even a gamma-ray burst that originates on the other side of the universe will often be detectable by astronomers on Earth.

Gamma rays are the most energetic photons in the electromagnetic spectrum, far more powerful than X-rays, which can cause cancer if exposed to them at high levels. Outer space is teeming with gamma rays, although few reach the Earth’s surface because the atmosphere absorbs the vast majority of them before they can ever harm us.

However, a sufficiently large gamma-ray burst could theoretically strip the planet of its atmosphere and cause a mass extinction event. Indeed, it is widely believed that a gamma-ray burst caused the Ordovician extinction around 443 million years ago. Fortunately for contemporary humans, no GRB in recent memory has been close enough to Earth to have this effect. About 30% of them are short bursts that only last a few seconds, while most of the others usually only last a few minutes.

GRBs were first discovered by scientists accidentally in the 1960s, and even then they realized that these bursts generate as much energy as our sun will during its entire 10 billions of years. On this recent occasion, the explosive event – now officially dubbed GRB 221009A – traveled about 1.9 billion light-years to reach Earth, starting in the direction of the constellation Sagitta. Coincidentally, it happened at the same time that gamma astronomers were gathering in the South African city of Johannesburg for the 10th Fermi Symposium. Needless to say, they were impressed by the symbolically rich timing.

Judy Racusin, assistant Fermi project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., who is attending the conference, said in a statement that “it’s safe to say that this meeting has truly kicked off with a bang – everyone is talking about it.”


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Preliminary analysis indicates that the Fermi Large Area Telescope (LAT), a space telescope, successfully detected the radiation pulse for about 10 hours. Astronomers believe the pulse came from a new black hole created when a massive star collapsed under its own weight. As a result, astronomers believe the information gained by measuring this radioactive pulse can provide new insights into how black holes are created and the dynamics involved in a star’s collapse, among other things.

Because it is believed to have released 18 teraelectronvolts of energy, scientists are preparing to call it a precedent, given that no previous gamma-ray burst has ever exceeded 10 teraelectronvolts.

“This burst is much closer than typical GRBs, which is exciting because it allows us to detect many details that would otherwise be too faint to see,” said Roberta Pillera, Fermi LAT Collaboration Fellow and PhD student. at the Polytechnic University of Bari, Italy. in a press release about the breakup. “But it’s also one of the most energetic and brightest bursts ever seen at any distance, which makes it doubly exciting.”

Several media covering the explosion described it in historical terms. Because it is believed to have released 18 teraelectronvolts of energy, scientists are preparing to call it a precedent, given that no previous gamma-ray burst has ever exceeded 10 teraelectronvolts. Space.com described it as “the most powerful flash of light ever seen”, while Phys.org called it perhaps “the most powerful explosion ever recorded”. Jillian Rastinejad, a Northwestern University graduate student who led one of two independent teams that used Chile’s Gemini South telescope to study the event, described it as “the ‘BOAT’ or brightest of all the time, because when you look at the thousands of bursts that gamma-ray telescopes have been detecting since the 1990s, this one stands out.”

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