Here's what produced the brightest light ever detected in the Universe

Published by Adrien - Thursday, April 18, 2024 - Other Languages: FR, DE, ES, PT
Source: Nature Astronomy

A team led by Northwestern University has confirmed the event behind the brightest gamma-ray burst (GRB) ever recorded. This explosion, detected in 2022, was nicknamed B.O.A.T., standing for "Brightest Of All Time."

The phenomenon was studied using the James Webb Space Telescope, concluding it was the result of the collapse and explosion of a massive star.

Artistic visualization of the event named "GRB 221009A" showing the narrow relativistic jets emerging from a central black hole, responsible for the gamma-ray burst, and the remains of the original star expelled by the supernova.
Credit: Aaron M. Geller / Northwestern / CIERA / IT Research Computing and Data Services

With the aid of the James Webb Space Telescope, post-doctoral fellow Peter Blanchard from Northwestern University and his team studied the object that generated this gamma-ray burst, confirming that the event named "GRB 221009A" was the result of the collapse of a massive star into a black hole. The study also reveals that the event occurred in a dense star-forming region.

While this study solved one mystery, it reinforced another. The researchers did not find signatures of heavy elements like platinum and gold in the material expelled by the supernova. This leaves open one of the major unanswered questions in astronomy regarding the origin of these heavy elements in the Universe.

About six months after its first detection, the team observed the supernova using the James Webb Space Telescope's near-infrared spectrograph. They noted that the signature of heavy elements was not significant, which is surprising given the intensity of the gamma-ray burst.

The research, published in the journal Nature Astronomy, reveals that "normal" supernovas might not produce heavy elements, contrary to what one might expect from events as energetic as B.O.A.T. This information is crucial for further understanding where these heavy elements come from.

Future observations with the James Webb Space Telescope will determine if other events of the same type produce these elements.
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