A record-breaking gamma ray burst may be the most powerful ever recorded

Thanks to the quick reaction by observers and staff, near-simultaneous observations of GRB221009A were made from Gemini South in Chile. The image is a combination of 4 exposures at I, J, H, K with two instruments taken on the morning of Friday, October 14, 2022. Credit: International Gemini Observatory/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA/B. O’Connor (UMD/GWU) & J. Rastinejad & W Fong (Northwestern Univ) Image processing: TA Rector (University of Alaska Anchorage/NSF’s NOIRLab), M. Zamani & D. de Martin (NSF’s NOIRLab)

In the early morning hours of the day, October 14, 2022, astronomers using the Gemini South telescope in Chile operated by NSF’s NOIRLab observed the unprecedented consequences of one of the most powerful explosions ever recorded, the gamma-ray burst GRB221009A. This record-breaking event, first detected on October 9, 2022 by orbiting X-ray and gamma-ray telescopes, occurred 2.4 billion light-years from Earth and was likely caused by a supernova explosion that gave birth to a black hole. .

A giant cosmic explosion has sparked an outburst of activity by astronomers around the world as they race to study the implications of what is the closest and perhaps the most energetic gamma-ray burst (GRB) ever. Observations just released by two independent teams using the Gemini South Telescope in Chile – one of the twin telescopes of the Gemini International Observatory operated by NSF’s NOIRLab – targeted the bright and glowing remnants of the explosion, which likely heralded the birth of a supernova. Black hole.

The GRB, identified as GRB 221009A, occurred about 2.4 billion light-years away in the direction of the constellation Sagitta. It was first detected on the morning of October 9 by X-ray and gamma-ray space telescopes, including the NASA Fermi Gamma Ray Space Telescope, the Neil Gehrells Swift Observatory, and the Wind spacecraft.

With word of this discovery spreading rapidly, two teams of astronomers worked closely with staff at South Gemini to obtain possible early observations of the afterglow of this historic eruption.

In the early morning hours of Friday, October 14, two independent teams of observers led by graduate students Brendan O’Connor (University of Maryland/George Washington University) and Gillian Rastingad (Northwestern University) conducted in the early morning hours of Friday, October 14. ). The notes happened just minutes away. The first observation used the FLAMINGOS-2 instrument, a near-infrared imaging spectrometer. The other observation used a Gemini multi-object spectrometer (GMOS).

Teams can now access the two datasets for their analytics for this active and evolving event.

“The exceptionally long GRB 221009A is the brightest GRB ever recorded and its afterglow broke all records at all wavelengths,” said O’Connor. “Because this explosion is so bright and close as well, we think this is a once-in-a-century opportunity to address some of the fundamental questions related to these explosions, from the formation of black holes to tests of dark matter models.”

Thanks to the quick reaction of observers and staff, combined with the use of Gemini’s output time estimated and efficient data reduction software such as Gemini’s “FIRE” DRAGONS (Fast Initial Reduction Engine) this image was quickly produced shortly after the observations.

“The agility and responsiveness of Gemini’s infrastructure and staff are the hallmarks of our observatory, and have made our telescopes a go-to resource for astronomers studying transient events,” said Janice Lee, chief scientist at Gemini.

Communications have already been sent to fellow astronomers through NASA’s gamma-ray coordinate network, whose archive is now filled with reports from around the world. Astronomers believe it represents the collapse of a star several times the mass of our Sun, which in turn unleashes an extremely powerful supernova and generates a black hole 2.4 billion light-years from Earth.

β€œIn our research group, we’ve been referring to this explosion as ‘BOAT’, or the brightest of all time, because when you look at the thousands of explosions that gamma-ray telescopes have spotted since the 1990s, this telescope stands apart,” Rastingad said. and the diverse range of instruments in optical peer-observation of GRB221009A to much later times than most ground-based telescopes can observe. This will help us understand why these gamma-ray bursts are so unique and vibrant.”

When black holes form, they drive powerful jets of particles that accelerate to nearly the speed of light. These jets then cut off the remainder of the progenitor star, emitting X-rays and gamma rays as they flow through space. If these jets are directed in the general direction of the Earth, they are observed as bright flashes of X-rays and gamma rays.

Another gamma-ray burst may not appear this bright for decades or even centuries, and the condition is still evolving. Of note are other unusual reports of disturbances in the Earth’s ionosphere affecting the long-wave radio transmission of energetic radiation from the GRB221009A event. Scientists are also wondering how the very high-energy 18 TeV (teraelectronvolts) photons observed with the Chinese Great Air Shower Observatory at high altitude could challenge our standard understanding of physics and survive their 2.4 billion-year journey back to Earth.

This event, given its relative proximity to Earth, is also a unique opportunity to better understand the origin of elements heavier than iron and whether they all come only from merging neutron stars or also from collapsing stars that lead to the release of GRBs.

“Gemini’s observations will allow us to take full advantage of this nearby event and look for signatures of heavy elements that formed and were ejected in the star’s massive collapse,” O’Connor said.


NASA’s Swift and Fermi missions discover an extraordinary cosmic explosion


Presented by NOIRLab

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