Hubble Telescope Observes Cataclysmic Gamma-Ray Burst Rip Through the Universe Emitting 1 Trillion Times the Energy of Light

Thursday, 21 November 2019 - 11:06AM
ESA
Astrophysics
Thursday, 21 November 2019 - 11:06AM
Hubble Telescope Observes Cataclysmic Gamma-Ray Burst Rip Through the Universe Emitting 1 Trillion Times the Energy of Light
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Credit: ESA/Hubble, M. Kornmesser
A cataclysmic gamma-ray burst rocked a galaxy 5 billion light-years away, ripping through time and space to light up telescopes around the world in January – including Hubble, Swift, and Fermi – and scientists needed that much time to analyze the data before they were willing to talk about it.

 
It's the highest energy level ever observed or recorded. According to a press release from the European Space Agency/Hubble team, this gamma-ray burst unleashed 1 teraelectronvolt (TeV) – one trillion times as much energy per photon as visible light. The fact that scientists were even able to record this measurement is a landmark in itself.

 
In order to create this energy, a collapsing star must discharge material at 99.99% of the speed of light. As this debris rockets through clouds of gas surrounding the star, it creates a shockwave that then triggers a gamma-ray burst.

 
This one – GRB 190114C – was measured as coming from an unusual location: the heart of a dense and supermassive galaxy, where gamma-ray bursts aren't typically observed. One of the lead study authors, Andrew Levan from the Netherlands' the Institute for Mathematics, Astrophysics & Particle Physics Department of Astrophysics at Radboud University, explained:


"Hubble's observations suggest that this particular burst was sitting in a very dense environment, right in the middle of a bright galaxy 5 billion light-years away…This is really unusual, and suggests that might be why it produced this exceptionally powerful light."


Watch the Hubblecast animation (and explanation) here:





Gamma-ray bursts are the most violent kind of explosion in the universe. They last anywhere from tenths of a second to several hours and can emit more energy in a few seconds than our Sun will ever give off in its lifetime.


"Scientists have been trying to observe very-high-energy emission from gamma-ray bursts for a long time," said Antonio de Ugarte Postigo, a scientist and co-author from the Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía in Spain. "This new observation is a vital step forward in our understanding of gamma-ray bursts, their immediate surroundings, and just how matter behaves when it is moving at 99.999% of the speed of light."


A paper detailing this data was published yesterday in the journal Nature.
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