According to NASA, an unusually bright and long-lasting pulse of radiation swept across our planet on Sunday, October 9th. This cosmic explosion came from a “gamma-ray burst” (GRB), one of the most powerful types of explosions in the universe.
As the wave of X-rays and gamma rays traversed the solar system, it triggered detectors at NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, Neil Gehrel’s Swift Observatory, and the Wind spacecraft, among other observatories. Coming from the direction of the constellation Sagittarius, the signal had traveled almost 1.9 billion years to reach our planet. Currently, astronomers suggest it was caused by the heart of a massive star collapsing under its own weight, forming a black hole. When this happens, the burgeoning black hole attracts powerful streams of particles traveling at nearly the speed of light. When these jets penetrate the star, it emits X-rays and gamma rays.
In April this year, NASA’s NICER X-ray telescope and a Japanese detector called the Monitor of All-sky X-ray Image (MAXI) were linked to create OHMAN (Orbiting High-energy Monitor Alert Network). This explosion provided a great opening opportunity to observe the two related experiments. With the link, NICER automatically and quickly turns to the outbreaks detected by MAXI; something that previously required intervention by on-site scientists.
This week started with a bang – a record-breaking gamma-ray burst captured by our Fermi and Swift telescopes, among others. The explosion likely signaled the birth of a black hole in a collapsing star nearly 2 billion years ago. More: https://t.co/GOnsPrsVxF pic.twitter.com/yJI2whqGuY
— NASA BOOniverse 👻 (@NASAUniverse) October 13, 2022
“OHMAN provided an automatic alert that allowed NICER to follow up within three hours once the source became visible to the telescope. Future possibilities could lead to response times of a few minutes,” said Zaven Arzoumanian, NICER’s chief science officer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, in an agency press statement.
This GRB brings good news to scientists in the form of new insights into stellar collapse and the birth of black holes. It also helps them learn more about how matter interacts as they approach the speed of light. Another GRB like this may not happen for decades, according to NASA.