Cosmic Blast Deemed ‘Largest Ever’ Unraveled by Astronomers


In a significant discovery, astronomers, including a team from Northwestern University, have identified the source of the most luminous gamma-ray burst (GRB) ever documented. This burst, designated GRB 221009A or ‘B.O.A.T’ (short for “brightest of all time”), was first observed in October 2022. The scientists have now confirmed that this historic burst was a result of a gigantic star collapsing and subsequently exploding, a process also known as a supernova. The discovery was made using NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).

The confirmation of the star’s collapse as the source of the GRB has helped the researchers to test a hypothesis regarding the formation of some of the heaviest elements in the universe, such as platinum and gold. These elements are believed to be potentially present within the remnants of such supernovae. However, the team did not find the expected signatures that indicate the presence of these heavy elements within the newly discovered supernova.

Peter Blanchard from Northwestern University, the lead author of the study, explained that the absence of these heavy elements in the B.O.A.T. suggests that not all extremely energetic GRBs result in the production of these elements. This does not negate the possibility that other GRBs may produce them. Future observations using the JWST will help to ascertain if other, less energetic GRBs, which Blanchard referred to as the B.O.A.T’s ‘normal’ cousins, are capable of producing these heavy elements.

The origin of heavy elements in the universe is one of the most profound unresolved questions in the field of astronomy. Understanding the processes that lead to their formation can provide crucial insights into the evolution of the universe. The scientists hope that further observations and research can shed more light on this intriguing mystery.



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