by Robert Lea
May 12, 2023
from Space Website
swirling cloud of fiery gases
The blast lasted for three years
and is over ten times as powerful
as the brightest supernova...
witnessed the largest explosion in space.
supernova explosions only last a
few months, this explosive event has been raging for at least three
The blast is around 8
billion light-years from Earth and thus occurred when the universe
was just 6 billion years old.
Both of these systems are designed to survey the night sky for astronomical events that rapidly change in brightness over time, also known as "transients."
This change in brightness
can indicate a supernova or a gamma-ray burst (GRB) deep in
the universe or something much closer to home like a comet or an
Wiseman and the team of astronomers think that AT2021lwx may be the result of a black hole violently disrupting a cloud of gas with a mass thousands of times greater than the sun.
As it did so, the black
hole swallowed fragments of the gas cloud, sending shockwaves into
both what remains of the gas and into a wider donut-shaped torus of
dust surrounding it, causing them to emit bright electromagnetic
Even though that is quite long for a GRB, it means that AT2021lwx has put out far more energy over its entire lifetime than this gamma-ray burst did in its own.
Following these observations, the researchers took the spectrum of light that was emitted from the event and split it down into its constituent wavelengths, measuring how light was emitted and absorbed around the event.
This allowed the researchers to calculate the distance to the source of AT2021lwx.
The only thing in the known universe that is as bright as AT2021lwx are supermassive black holes.
When these black holes feed on stellar gases that fall into them at high velocities, they can let off incredibly bright emissions known as quasars.
Though there are other possible explanations for the explosive event, the astronomers currently favor the explanation that sees an extremely large cloud of mostly gaseous hydrogen or dust that was knocked from its orbit around the black hole and sucked into it.
This will only be
conclusively determined when the team has collected more data about
They will also conduct computer simulations to discover if their model of a titanic gas cloud disrupted by a black hole could account for AT2021lwx.
The team's research is
discussed in a paper (Multiwavelength
observations of the extraordinary accretion event AT2021lwx)
published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal