Explosion Spotted A Quintillion Times Brighter Than Sun From 10 Billion Years Ago

The staggeringly bright explosion, which only lasted two hours, was spotted by a NASA telescope.
Chris Young
The afterglow of SGRB181123B (circled), captured by the Gemini North telescope.International Gemini Observatory/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA/K

Ten billion years ago, two neutron stars crashed into each other, causing one of the strongest explosions ever to be gazed by human eyes.

The light of the explosion, which likely lasted about two hours, took 10 billion years to reach Earth, where it was observed by NASA’s orbital Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory.


As bright as a million trillion Suns

If you find the fact that the explosion took place eons ago impressive, you might also be interested to know that the blasts' brightness was equivalent to a quintillion — that’s also a million trillion or 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 — Suns.

The explosion, which formed as a short gamma-ray burst (SGRB) was first spotted by a Northwestern University-led team of astrophysicists using NASA’s orbital Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory, CNET reports. It is the most ancient gamma-ray burst ever to be observed in the night sky by humans.

After NASA's scientists alerted their community, Hawaii’s Gemini telescope was also quickly trained on the blast, as were telescopes located in Arizona and Chile.

An extremely rare detection

"We certainly did not expect to discover a distant SGRB, as they are extremely rare and very faint," Northwestern's Wen-fai Fong, a senior author of the study, said in a press release. "We perform 'forensics' with telescopes to understand its local environment, because what its home galaxy looks like can tell us a lot about the underlying physics of these systems."

Explosion Spotted A Quintillion Times Brighter Than Sun From 10 Billion Years Ago
Source: Northwestern University

Based on the observations, as well as evidence previously collected on the gamma-ray bursts short-lived by nature, the collision and resulting explosion likely only took a couple of hours, according to the scientist's paper published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

“With SGRBs, you won’t detect anything if you get to the sky too late,” Wen-fai Fong explained. “But every once in awhile, if you react quickly enough, you will land on a really beautiful detection like this.” 

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