The Most Powerful Gamma-Ray Burst in History Reveals Unusual Physics

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In October 2022, a gamma-ray burst GRB 221009A, shining a thousand times brighter than average events of its kind, was detected. Earning its nickname as BOAT (brightest of all time), this burst presented atypical characteristics, offering insights into an unknown physics process.

BOAT’s jet structurally deviated from the typical matter jet produced during a gamma-ray burst. This suggests an unknown physics process underpinning the BOAT event, something previously unseen in similar events.

Analysing this ‘brightest-ever’ gamma-ray burst posed a significant challenge as scientists were unprepared for its detection. The cosmic signal, in essence, blinded all gamma-ray detectors, both in space and on Earth. Miraculously, a single gamma-ray telescope was spared – the Chinese observatory GECAM-C. As a portion of its detectors had been switched off, the equipment sensitivity was significantly reduced. By sheer chance, this allowed the Chinese scientists to establish an upper limit for the event, which was fifty times greater than any previously recorded gamma-ray burst.

NASA’s reconstruction using data from multiple gamma-ray and X-ray observatories gives a higher estimation, suggesting that the burst was seventy times more powerful than the previous record. However, the essence of the event remains the same, and both Chinese scientists and NASA concur on the scale of the event. However, further data analysis, particularly from X-ray sensors, unveiled other unique characteristics of the long gamma-ray burst GRB 221009A.

In particular, data analysis from NASA’s NuSTAR space-based X-ray observatory revealed considerable non-uniformity in the jet’s structure. A jet forms during the collapse of a star into a black hole, and until now, jets from such phenomena resembled a bullet – a uniform energy burst. X-ray observations of the shockwaves following GRB 221009A’s jet revealed an energetically non-uniform substance ejection throughout its length, a first for gamma-ray bursts.

Scientists theorise that the star’s collapse, which birthed the gamma-ray burst, could be the culprit for these unique characteristics. However, we can no longer discern the original star’s nature or why its jet deviated from thousands of similar events. Decoding the behaviour of GRB 221009A’s jet could provide an answer, akin to studying tracks in the snow. Data from other X-ray telescopes may prove helpful, as although they cannot see the gamma-ray burst itself, they can detect the shockwave’s spread from the jet.

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Vasyl Kolomiiets
Vasyl Kolomiiets
I'm Vasyl Kolomiiets, a seasoned tech journalist regularly contributing to global publications. Having a profound background in information technologies, I seamlessly blended my technical expertise with my passion for writing, venturing into technology journalism. I've covered a wide range of topics including cutting-edge developments and their impacts on society, contributing to leading tech platforms.

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