Astronomers puzzled by ‘largest’ ever cosmic explosion
Astronomers said on Friday they have identified the “largest” cosmic explosion ever observed, a fireball 100 times the size of our Solar System that suddenly began blazing in the distant universe more than three years ago.
While the astronomers offered what they think is the most likely explanation for the explosion, they emphasized that more research was needed to understand the puzzling phenomenon.
The explosion, called AT2021lwx, is not the brightest flash ever observed in the universe. That record is still held by a gamma-ray burst in October that was nicknamed BOAT—for Brightest Of All Time.
Philip Wiseman, an astrophysicist at Britain’s University of Southampton and the lead author of a new study, said that AT2021lwx was considered the “largest” explosion because it had released far more energy over the last three years than was produced by BOAT’s brief flash.
Wiseman told AFP it was an “accidental discovery”.
The Zwicky Transient Facility in California first spotted AT2021lwx during an automated sweep of the sky in 2020.
But “it basically sat in a database” until being noticed by humans the following year, Wiseman said.
It was only when astronomers, including Wiseman, looked at it through more powerful telescopes that they realized what they had on their hands.
By analyzing different wavelengths of light, they worked out that the explosion was roughly eight billion light years away.
That is much farther away than most other new flashes of light in the sky—which means the explosion behind it must be far greater.
It is estimated to be around two trillion times brighter than the Sun, Wiseman said.
Astronomers have looked into several possible explanations.
One is that AT2021lwx is an exploding star—but the flash is 10 times brighter than any previously seen “supernova”.
Another possibility is what is called a tidal disruption event, when a star is torn apart as it is sucked into a supermassive black hole. But AT2021lwx is still three times brighter than those events, and Wiseman said their research did not point in this direction.
The only somewhat comparable bright cosmic event is a quasar, when supermassive black holes swallow huge amounts of gas in the center of galaxies.
But they tend to flicker in brightness, Wiseman said, whereas AT2021lwx suddenly started flaring up from nothing three years ago, and it is still blazing away.
“This thing we have never, ever seen before—it just came out of nowhere,” Wiseman said.
In the new study, published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, the international team of researchers laid out what they believe is the most likely scenario.
Their theory is that a massive, single cloud of gas—around 5,000 times larger than the Sun—is slowly being consumed by a supermassive black hole.
But Wiseman said that “in science, there’s never certainty”. The team are working on new simulations to see if their theory is “fully plausible,” he added.
One problem could be that supermassive black holes sit in the center of galaxies—for an explosion this size, the galaxy would be expected to be as vast as the Milky Way, Wiseman said.
But no one has been able to spot a galaxy in the vicinity of AT2021lwx.
“That’s an absolute puzzle,” Wiseman admitted.
Now that astronomers know what to look for, they are searching the skies to see if other similar explosions have been missed.
P Wiseman et al, Multiwavelength observations of the extraordinary accretion event AT2021lwx, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (2023). DOI: 10.1093/mnras/stad1000. academic.oup.com/mnras/advance … ras/stad1000/7115325
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Astronomers puzzled by ‘largest’ ever cosmic explosion (2023, May 14)
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How to watch the Axiom-2 mission depart from the ISS on Tuesday – Digital Trends
This Tuesday, the crew of the second-ever all-private mission to the International Space Station will be returning to Earth. The Axiom 2 or Ax-2 mission launched last week and saw private astronauts Peggy Whitson, John Shoffner, Ali Alqarni, and Rayyanah Barnawi traveling to the ISS on a SpaceX Crew Dragon launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Now, the crew of four will be traveling back to Earth in the same Crew Dragon, and NASA will be livestreaming the departure of the spacecraft from the station. A separate stream will also be available showing the Crew Dragon splashing down off the coast of Florida. We’ve got the details on how to watch both below.
How to watch the mission departure
Coverage of the departure of the Crew Dragon from the ISS will begin at 9 a.m. ET (6 a.m. PT) on Tuesday, May 30. NASA will show a short introduction before the closing of the hatch of the station’s Harmony module at 9:10 a.m. ET (6:10 a.m. PT). There will then be a short break in coverage, which will resume at 10:45 a.m. ET (7:45 a.m. PT) to show the undocking of the Dragon at 11:05 a.m. ET (8:05 a.m. PT), with coverage ending 30 minutes after undocking.
You can watch the livestream of the hatch closing and the undocking on NASA’s YouTube channel, or by using the video embedded near the top of this page.
The crew will then travel back to Earth throughout Tuesday and into Wednesday, May 31. When the Crew Dragon is approaching Earth for splashdown, you’ll be able to tune into a livestream from Axiom Space. That will be available on Axiom’s website, but the company has not yet confirmed the exact time that coverage is expected to begin on Wednesday. You can find the latest updates on Axiom Twitter.
What to expect from the mission departure
The Ax-2 crew will have spent 10 days in space before heading home, and they will be bringing around 300 pounds of cargo back with them. The mission is notable for including the first two astronauts from Saudi Arabia, Ali Alqarni and Rayyanah Barnawi, as well as famous American astronaut Peggy Whitson who has spent more days in space than any other American or any other woman.
Axiom Space launched its first private mission to the ISS in April last year, with a third mission planned for November this year and a fourth planned for 2024.
NASA's New Horizons Spacecraft Captures ''Heart-Shaped'' Glacier On Pluto's Surface – NDTV
Space agency NASA routinely captures stunning images of our universe, leaving space lovers mesmerized. On Sunday, NASA shared a stunning image on Instagram taken by its New Horizons spacecraft showing a heart-shaped glacier on Pluto’s surface. The heart-shaped region is known unofficially as Tombaugh Regio and is made of nitrogen and methane.
The image was captioned as ”Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Our New Horizons spacecraft captured this heart-shaped glacier. It lies on Pluto’s surface, which also features mountains, cliffs, valleys, craters, and plains, thought to be made of methane and nitrogen ice ”
See the image here:
It described the image as ”Pluto’s surface is marked with cracks and craters in shades of brown. The partially visible heart appears in the lower right of the small world, which is surrounded by black space.”
New Horizons launched in January 2006 and reached Pluto in July 2015, flying within 7,800 miles of its surface, and becoming the first probe to fly by Pluto and its moons. The far-traveling spacecraft also visited a distant Kuiper Belt object Ultima Thule (2014 MU69) in January 2019.
Instagram users loved the picture and shared a variety of comments. One user wrote, ”Wouahh what a great capture, thanks to New Horizon spacecraft.” Another commented, ”For me, Pluto will always be a planet.”
A third said, ”Why is Pluto, not a plane? it literally has a heart!” A fourth added, ”Being afar doesn’t mean you aren’t part of the family.”
Pluto was once considered the ninth planet in the solar system, however, it was demoted in 2006 and reclassified as a dwarf planet. The International Astronomical Union (IAU) downgraded the status of Pluto to that of a dwarf planet because it did not meet the three criteria the IAU uses to define a full-sized planet.
Pluto is slightly over 1,400 miles (2250 km) wide or about half the breadth of the United States or two-thirds the width of the Moon. With its average temperature of -387F (-232C) – Pluto’s surface is coated in ice made of water, methane, and nitrogen and is believed to have a rocky core and possibly a deep ocean.
This Week @NASA: Private Astronaut Mission, Autonomous Snake-Like Robot Explorer, TROPICS Launch – SciTechDaily
The second all-private astronaut mission to the space station …
Completing the set of tiny severe weather trackers …
And a robotic explorer – with a twist …
A few of the stories to tell you about – This Week at <span class="glossaryLink" aria-describedby="tt" data-cmtooltip="
” data-gt-translate-attributes=”["attribute":"data-cmtooltip", "format":"html"]”>NASA!
Second Private Astronaut Mission to the Space Station
On May 21, a <span class="glossaryLink" aria-describedby="tt" data-cmtooltip="
” data-gt-translate-attributes=”["attribute":"data-cmtooltip", "format":"html"]”>SpaceX Dragon spacecraft launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on Axiom Mission 2, the second all private astronaut mission to the International Space Station.
The four-person crew, commanded by former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, is scheduled to spend several days conducting research, outreach, and commercial activities on the space station.
Final Pair of Storm-Observing CubeSats Launched
The final two CubeSats for NASA’s TROPICS mission launched from Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand on May 26. The small satellites will join two other identical spacecraft that launched to orbit earlier this month.
All four will fly, as a constellation, in a unique low Earth orbit that will allow them to observe tropical cyclones, including hurricanes and typhoons, more often than what is possible with
current weather satellites.
Autonomous Snake-Like Robotic Explorer
A team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is creating and testing a snake-like robot called EELS, short for Exobiology Extant Life Surveyor. The self-propelled, autonomous robot is
being developed to go where other robots can’t go.
Although it was inspired by a desire to look for signs of life in the sub-surface ocean on <span class="glossaryLink" aria-describedby="tt" data-cmtooltip="
” data-gt-translate-attributes=”["attribute":"data-cmtooltip", "format":"html"]”>Saturn’s icy moon, Enceladus, EELS is not currently part of any NASA mission.
Artemis Rocket Engine Test Series Continues
On May 23, NASA’s Stennis Space Center conducted a hot fire test of an RS-25 rocket engine. It was the eighth hot fire of the current 12-test series to certify production of new RS-25s.
Four of the engines will help power NASA’s Space Launch System rocket on future Artemis missions to the Moon.
That’s what’s up this week @NASA.
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