This cataclysmic event just generated the “brightest” light in the known universe—and we detected it using MAGIC.
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Scientists recently recorded the most intense electromagnetic event in the universe. The events on record are called gamma-ray bursts, or GRBs, and they are considered the most energetic explosions in our universe.
In general, gamma rays result from all kinds of cosmic events, like celestial bodies crashing into one another, or matter getting sucked into black holes, or stars exploding. Gamma-ray bursts, in particular, can result from two things: long GRBs are from star deaths, and short GRBs are from collisions between things like neutron stars.
A GRB that is the result of an exploding star is what scientists think they have recently measured with the Major Atmospheric Gamma Imaging Cherenkov Telescopes, or MAGIC.
In a very cool space tool collaboration, two NASA satellites observed the GRB and told the telescope to turn its eyes in that direction, and then more detailed observations of the radiation itself were recorded by other observatories, including the Hubble Space Telescope.
Events like this release a huge stream of energy when the star dies, before it decays into a neutron star or a black hole. And this most recent star explosion in particular went out with quite a bang: Photons from this event carried 1 trillion electron volts of energy. That’s the record for most energy of any GRB ever recorded.
Observations from this most recent GRB (and a slightly less energetic one recorded in 2018) have opened up a whole new cosmological door for us.
Find out more about what scientists have learned and how this work could impact our lives here on Earth in this Elements.
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Scientists Just Witnessed the Birth of a Heavy Element in Space https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c5WKpFZHYPk
Breaking the limits: Discovery of the highest-energy photons from a gamma-ray burst
This ground-breaking achievement by MAGIC provides critical new insight for understanding the physical processes at work in GRBs, which are still mysterious. The photons detected by MAGIC must originate from a process hitherto unseen in the afterglows of GRBs, clearly distinct from the physical process that is known to be responsible for their emission at lower energies.
An ‘unknown’ burst of gravitational waves just lit up Earth’s detectors
The gravitational waves we’ve detected so far usually relate to extreme cosmic events, like two black holes colliding or neutron stars finally merging after being caught in a death spiral. Burst gravitational waves have not been detected before and scientists hypothesize they may be linked to phenomena such as supernova or gamma ray bursts, producing a tiny "pop" when detected by the observatories.
Stars need a partner to spin universe’s brightest explosions
A long gamma-ray burst (GRB), the type examined in this study, occurs when a massive star about ten times the size of our sun goes supernova, collapses into a neutron star or black hole and fires a relativistic jet of material into space. Instead of the star collapsing radially inwards, it flattens down into a disc to conserve angular momentum. As the material falls inwards, that angular momentum launches it in the form of a jet along the polar axis.
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