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Astronomers reveal the largest cosmic explosion ever seen

Scientists don't know what causes the mysterious signals but it must involve incredible energy

In a monumental breakthrough, a University of Southampton-led team of astronomers has stumbled upon a cosmic event of unparalleled magnitude. This discovery, the largest cosmic explosion ever recorded, surpasses the intensity and scale of all known supernovae and tidal disruption events.

A team of astronomers under the leadership of the University of Southampton has unveiled a discovery of epic proportions, revealing the most gigantic cosmic explosion ever witnessed in the history of space observation. This colossal event surpasses the intensity of all previously recorded supernovae — the spectacular explosion of stars — as well as tidal disruption events, which occur when a star gets too close to a supermassive black hole and is torn apart by gravitational forces. This groundbreaking discovery sets a new benchmark in the field of cosmic events, shedding light on the vast and powerful forces that shape our universe.

The Largest Cosmic Explosion

Surpassing by over ten times the brightness of the most luminous known supernova and tripling that of the brightest tidal disruption event, the explosion, dubbed AT2021lwx, outshines all previous records. This phenomenal event, unfolding over three years, is much longer than the typical few months of most supernovae. The explosion, detectable by a network of telescopes, occurred nearly eight billion light years away when the universe was a mere six billion years old.

Theories Behind the Phenomenon

The researchers speculate that a colossal gas cloud, potentially thousands of times larger than our sun, violently disrupted by a supermassive black hole, caused this explosion. In this scenario, the black hole devours parts of the gas cloud, generating shockwaves throughout the remaining cloud and a large surrounding dusty “doughnut.” Such occurrences are exceedingly rare, making this event a first of its kind.

Comparing the Largest Cosmic Explosions

In contrast to the short-lived GRB 221009A, last year’s record-setting gamma-ray burst, AT2021lwx’s longer duration means it has released more overall energy, despite being less bright.

Discovering AT2021lwx

The AT2021lwx explosion was first detected in 2020 by the California-based Zwicky Transient Facility and later by Hawaii’s Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System (ATLAS). These facilities monitor the night sky for transient objects that indicate cosmic events, such as supernovae, as well as discovering asteroids and comets. Until now, the explosion’s scale was unknown.

Unearthing an Anomaly

Dr. Philip Wiseman, a Research Fellow at the University of Southampton, led the research. He explained that the team discovered the explosion when their search algorithm flagged it while looking for a type of supernova. The object’s unusual brightness for over two years immediately stood out.

Analyzing the Light Spectrum

The team conducted further investigation of the object using several telescopes. By analyzing the light spectrum and measuring different absorption and emission features, they were able to determine the object’s distance.

Matching the Brightness of Quasars

Only quasars, supermassive black holes with a constant gas flow, are as bright as AT2021lwx, according to Professor Sebastian Hönig from the University of Southampton. He noted that while quasars’ brightness fluctuates over time, AT2021lwx appeared suddenly, matching the brightness of the brightest objects in the universe.

Explaining the Explosion

The team believes an enormous gas or dust cloud, primarily hydrogen, deviated from its black hole orbit, causing the explosion. They will now gather more data on the explosion, conducting computational simulations to validate their theory.

The Future of Cosmic Exploration

New facilities, such as the Vera Rubin Observatory’s Legacy Survey of Space and Time, will assist in uncovering more such events, according to Dr. Wiseman. Despite their rarity, these energetic events may play a crucial role in the evolution of galaxy centers.

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