The Most Powerful Space Explosion Ever Seen Reveals a Surprise Twist : ScienceAlert | Space

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In October 2022, surveys monitoring the skies for explosions in space started going off like a frog in a sock.

The reason? Something 2.4 billion light-years away spat out the biggest burst of gamma-radiation ever recorded. The event, GRB 221009A, clocked in at a record 18 teraelectronvolts and was so powerful it shook Earth’s outer atmosphere.

The event, nicknamed the BOAT (for Brightest of All Time), we later determined to be the birth of a black hole from the violent death of a massive star.

Now a new analysis of the evolving light has revealed the intricacies of this explosion, and found that, for all its gamma-ray fury, the BOAT was actually surprisingly ordinary, which is not something we expected.

“It’s not any brighter than previous supernovae,” says astrophysicist Peter Blanchard of Northwestern University in the US.

“It looks fairly normal in the context of other supernovae associated with less energetic gamma-ray bursts (GRBs). You might expect that the same collapsing star producing a very energetic and bright GRB would also produce a very energetic and bright supernova. But it turns out that’s not the case. We have this extremely luminous GRB, but a normal supernova.”

Gamma-ray bursts are the most powerful explosions seen in the cosmos. They are, as the name suggests, bursts of gamma radiation – the most energetic light in the Universe – that can erupt in 10 seconds with as much energy as the Sun will emit in 10 billion years.

We know of at least two major events that can create a GRB: the formation of a black hole when a massive star goes supernova, or the hypernova accompanying the merger of two neutron stars.

The kinds of novae that produce gamma-ray bursts are also thought to be responsible for the production of heavy elements in the Universe. The thing is, heavy elements simply didn’t exist until stars made them.

Stars mostly form out of the hydrogen gas abundant in the Universe, but they smash together atomic nuclei in their cores to create…

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