Accessibility links

Breaking News

Astronomers Studying Effects of Brightest Light Burst Ever Seen

This picture provided by NASA on Oct. 14, 2022, shows the Swift Observatory's view of the afterglow of a burst of gamma rays about an hour after it was first detected.
This picture provided by NASA on Oct. 14, 2022, shows the Swift Observatory's view of the afterglow of a burst of gamma rays about an hour after it was first detected.
Astronomers Studying Effects of Brightest Light Burst Ever See
please wait

No media source currently available

0:00 0:04:32 0:00

Astronomers have observed the brightest burst of light ever seen, from an event that happened 2.4 billion light-years from Earth. A light year is about 9.4 trillion kilometers.

The scientists say the burst was probably caused when a black hole formed.

Gamma rays are among the most intense forms of electromagnetic radiation. The burst was first noted by orbiting telescopes on Sunday. Scientists across the world are continuing to observe its effects.

Astrophysicist Brendan O'Connor spoke to the French News Agency. He said gamma ray bursts that last hundreds of seconds, as this one did, are thought to be caused when massive stars explode. Such stars are about 30 times the size of the Sun.

The massive star explosion, called a supernova, results in a massive black hole. A disk of matter forms around the black hole as it falls inside the massive object. Energy is also expelled away from the black hole in a jet. The expelled energy moves at 99.99 percent the speed of light.

The gamma ray burst released photons carrying a record amount of energy. It affected longwave radio communications in Earth's ionosphere.

"It's really breaking records, both in the amount of photons, and the energy of the photons that are reaching us," said O'Connor. The scientist used infrared instruments on the Gemini South telescope in Chile to take new observations recently.

"Something this bright, this nearby, is really a once-in-a-century event," he added.

"Gamma ray bursts in general release the same amount of energy that our sun produces over its entire lifetime” in just a few seconds, he noted.

“And this event is the brightest gamma ray burst," O’Conner said.

The gamma ray burst was first found by telescopes including NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, the Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory, and the Wind spacecraft on Sunday.

1.9 billion-year-old movie

The burst came from the direction of the constellation Sagitta and traveled an estimated 1.9 billion years to reach Earth. That is less than the current distance of its starting point because of the expansion of the universe.

Observing the event now is like watching a 1.9 billion-year-old recording of those events. Astronomers have the rare chance to learn more about black hole formation and other mysteries.

O'Connor works with the University of Maryland and George Washington University. He said he and others will continue watching for the expected signs of supernovas at different wavelengths. The researchers aim to confirm that their theory about the burst’s beginnings is correct, and that the event obeys the laws of physics.

Supernova explosions are also predicted to be responsible for producing heavy elements such as gold, platinum and uranium. Astronomers will also be hunting for those heavy metals.

I’m Caty Weaver.

Agence France-Presse reported this story. Caty Weaver adapted it for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

black hole –n. the remnant of a massive star which has such powerful gravity that even light cannot escape

astrophysicist – n. a scientist who studies the physical and chemical properties and structure of stars and outer space objects

disk – n. a flat, round object

photon – n. a particle of light

ionosphere – n. a part of the atmosphere from 70 to 400 kilometers above the Earth in which the sun’s radiation affects the transmission of radio waves

infrared – n. a wavelength of electromagnetic radiation that cannot be seen with the human eye

constellation – n. a group of start that form a shape in the sky and that has a name and often a story about it


What do you think of this story?

We want to hear from you. We have a new comment system. Here is how it works:

  1. Write your comment in the box.
  2. Under the box, you can see four images for social media accounts. They are for Disqus, Facebook, Twitter and Google.
  3. Click on one image and a box appears. Enter the login for your social media account. Or you may create one on the Disqus system. It is the blue circle with “D” on it. It is free.

Each time you return to comment on the Learning English site, you can use your account and see your comments and replies to them. Our comment policy is here.