Gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) are some highly energetic explosions that have been spotted in faraway galaxies. They mostly expel a massive amount of their energy in gamma rays, a light that is much more energetic than the visible light humans are able to see with the naked eye.
In January 2019, a powerfully bright and long GRB was spotted by a few telescopes, including NASA‘s Swift and Fermi telescopes, and the Major Atmospheric Gamma Imaging Cherenkov (MAGIC) telescopes.
Known as GRB 190114C, some of the light identified from the object had the brightest energy ever seen, one Tera-electron volt (TeV), which is about one trillion times as much energy per photon as visible light.
Researchers have been attempting to detect such extremely high energy emission from GRBs for some time now, so this finding has now marked a milestone in high-energy astrophysics. A few other observations have unveiled that in order to reach this level of energy, the material has to be emitted from a collapsed star at 99.999 percent the speed of light.
This material is then compelled through the gas that encircles the star, triggering a shock that generates gamma-ray bursts. For the first time, researchers have seen extremely powerful gamma rays from this specific burst.
Studying This Particular GRB
Telescopes based on both the ground and in space have been programmed to analyze GRB 190114C. European researchers have already begun studying the GRBs using data on ESA and NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.
One of the lead authors of the study, Andrew Levan from the Radboud University in the Netherlands, said: “Hubble’s observations suggest that this particular burst was sitting in a very dense environment, right in the middle of a bright galaxy five billion light-years away. This is really unusual, and suggests that might be why it produced this exceptionally powerful light.”
Astronomers made use of the Hubble Space Telescope’s data, as well as the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope and the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array to further study the host galaxy of this particular GRB.
“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 percent of the speed of light,” explained lead author Antonio de Ugarte Postigo from the Instituto de Astrofisica de Andalucia in Spain.