Meet BOAT, the brightest gamma-ray burst of all time!

The brightest gamma-ray burst ever recorded recently illuminated a distant galaxy, and astronomers have dubbed it the BOAT, the brightest of all time. Gamma-ray bursts are energetic explosions that erupt when a massive star dies and leaves behind a black hole or neutron star, the collapse unleashing jets of gamma rays that shoot away from the poles of the old star. If those jets are pointed directly at Earth, astronomers can see them as a gamma-ray burst.

This new outburst, officially named GRB 221009A, was likely triggered by a supernova that spawned a black hole in a galaxy about 2 billion light-years from Earth, the researchers announced. Astronomers believe that it released as much energy as approximately three suns by converting all of its mass into pure energy.

NASA’s Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory, a gamma-ray telescope in space, automatically detected the burst on October 9, 2022 and quickly alerted astronomers that something strange was going on. Within days, scientists around the world were able to glimpse the explosion with telescopes in space and on the ground, in almost all types of light, even some radio telescopes normally used as lightning detectors saw a sudden disturbance associated with GRB 221009A. , suggesting that the burst ripped electrons from atoms in Earth’s atmosphere.

In the hours and days after the initial explosion, the burst subsided, giving way to a still relatively bright glow. Eventually, astronomers watched it fade further, replaced by glowing waves of material in the supernova remnant. Studying the burst as it changes challenges some of the assumptions about how gamma-ray bursts work; GRB 221009A moved behind the sun from Earth’s perspective beginning in late November, temporarily shielding it from view, but because its glow was still so bright, astronomers are hopeful they’ll be able to see it when it becomes visible again now in February.

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