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Astronomers Detect Largest Ever Cosmic Explosion

Happily, it's 8 billion light years away but it has astonished scientists.


An artist's impression of a quasar, which is the leading hypothesis for the powerful explosion dubbed AT2021lwx
An artist's impression of a quasar, which is the leading hypothesis for the powerful explosion dubbed AT2021lwx | NASA/ESA/ J. Olmsted (STScI)

Astronomers have captured the biggest cosmic explosion ever detected. About 100 times bigger than the solar system and two trillion times brighter than the Sun at its peak, the mysterious miasma has remained visible for three years.


The universe is full of extreme events - stars go supernova with some regularity, black holes swallow objects with powerful burps, and cosmic collisions give off so much energy they distort the very fabric of space and time, says New Atlas. But this explosion is exceptional.


A team led by Dr Philip Wiseman from the University of Southampton analysed the light from the event which enabled them to calculate its distance - 8 billion light years away. Dr Wiseman described the moment they worked out the brightness of the phenomenon. "We thought 'oh my God, this is outrageous!'".


The team were completely baffled as to what could have caused something so bright. There was nothing in the scientific literature that could account for something that was so bright that lasted so long, according to Dr Wiseman.


"Most supernovae and tidal disruption events only last for a couple of months before fading away. For something to be bright for two plus years was immediately very unusual."


The team’s leading hypothesis is that it’s a kind of supercharged quasar, with an enormous cloud of gas or dust that recently swirled into a supermassive black hole, sending shockwaves through the rest of the dust in the area.


The search is now on for more huge explosions like this, according to Dr Robert Massey who is the Deputy Executive Director of the Royal Astronomical Society. "We've never seen anything like this before and certainly not on this scale," he told BBC News.


The research was published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

 

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