Southampton Researchers And the Ginormous Cosmic Explosion

22nd May 2023
Southampton Researchers And the Ginormous Cosmic Explosion

Astronomers at the University of Southampton have found what is thought to be the largest cosmic explosion ever seen. The explosion has lasted over three years.

How Ginormous is the cosmic explosion?

The explosion has two names. There is ZTF20abrbeie, which gave rise to the ‘Scary Barbie‘ moniker. At the same time, because the magnitude of the light varied, it got a variable star’s catalog name of AT2021lwx. The University of Southampton team focused on the duration of the explosion as well as the severity, which led to their recent findings.

It is thought to be a result of a cloud of gas, thousands of times the size of some stars, being sent into a black hole after leaving its orbit.

Parts of the gas cloud have been sucked in by the black hole which has created a doughnut shape in the explosion.

To see a space event like this is rare in the first place, but the size of this explosion is particularly notable. The sighting came as part of research being carried out by the University of Southampton. Dr Philip Wiseman, who is a research fellow at the University, explained:

‘We came upon this by chance, as it was flagged by our search algorithm when we were searching for a type of supernova. 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 researchers published their findings in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

And the brightest of them all

The studies being carried out at Southampton place the explosion at eight billion light years away. The event occurred when the universe was around six billion years old.

AT2021lwx was detected by the Zwicky Transient Facility in California back in 2020 and also the Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System (ATLAS) in Hawaii.

The discovery comes after astronomers also recently found the brightest space explosion known, a burst of gamma that has been called GRB 221009A. This lasted a small percentage of the time of AT2021lwx, which has therefore expelled more energy overall.

These discoveries are about more than just information for the record books. They help scientists to learn and understand how the galaxies and their structures change over time.

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