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Mysterious Solar System-Sized Explosion Puzzles Astronomers and Challenges Established Theories

An illustration of the strange explosion. Image Credit: Credit: Philip Drury, University of Sheffield.

Astronomers are left scratching their heads after observing a bizarre, flat disk-like explosion in space, defying conventional understanding of cosmic explosions.

An Unprecedented Aspherical Explosion

Scientists are perplexed by a solar system-sized explosion whose disk-like shape defies established knowledge about space explosions. This unusual event was a Fast Blue Optical Transient (FBOT), a rare type of explosion far less common than supernovas. Nicknamed “the cow,” the first bright FBOT was detected in 2018.

Challenging Our Understanding of Stellar Explosions

Typically, star explosions in the cosmos are spherical, reflecting the shape of the stars themselves. However, this extraordinary explosion, located 180 million light-years away, is the most aspherical ever observed. A disk-like shape appeared a few days after its discovery, possibly originating from material ejected by the star before the explosion.

A Step Closer to Understanding FBOT Explosions

The study, published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, aims to help scientists better understand the elusive FBOT explosions. Dr. Justyn Maund, the study’s lead author from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, emphasized the “weird” nature of FBOTs, which are brighter and evolve faster than expected. This new observation makes them even more perplexing.

Possible Explanations for Aspherical Explosions

Dr. Maund offered potential explanations for the atypical shape of the explosion: stars involved may have created a disk before their demise, or these could be failed supernovas in which a collapsing star core forms a black hole or neutron star that consumes the remaining star material.

Asymmetry and the Future of Explosion Research

The unprecedented asymmetry in this explosion is now considered crucial to understanding these enigmatic events, challenging preconceived notions of how stars explode in the universe. A flash of polarized light was spotted serendipitously, enabling scientists to measure the explosion’s polarization using the Liverpool Telescope on La Palma, owned by Liverpool John Moores University. This data helped them reconstruct the explosion’s 3D shape and map the blast’s edges, revealing its remarkable flatness.

The Next Steps in FBOT Research

Researchers plan to conduct a new survey using the international Vera Rubin Observatory in Chile, with the expectation of discovering more FBOTs and enhancing our understanding of these extraordinary cosmic phenomena.

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