Gamma-ray burst (GRB) detected by NASA’s Swift, Fermi missions is exceptional

NASA’s missions Swift and Fermi detected an exceptional gamma-ray burst (GRB) on October 9 coming from the GRB 221009A giving an unexpected exciting start to the 10th Fermi Symposium, a gathering of gamma-ray astronomers now underway in Johannesburg, South Africa.

GRB are the most powerful class of explosions in the universe – that ranks among the most luminous events known. The wave of X-rays and gamma rays triggered from the blast passed through the solar system on October 9 and this injection of the waves into our solar system triggered detectors on a number of telescopes including NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory, and Wind spacecraft.

According to estimate, the waves from the GRB travelled a whopping 1.9 billion years to reach Earth. According to astronomers the signal originated from the direction of the constellation Sagitta and is most possibly a signal indicating the birth cry of a new black hole, one that formed in the heart of a massive star collapsing under its own weight. In these circumstances, a nascent black hole drives powerful jets of particles traveling near the speed of light. The jets pierce through the star, emitting X-rays and gamma rays as they stream into space.

The light from this ancient explosion brings with it new insights into stellar collapse, the birth of a black hole, the behavior and interaction of matter near the speed of light, the conditions in a distant galaxy – and much more. Another GRB this bright may not appear for decades.

According to a preliminary analysis, Fermi’s Large Area Telescope (LAT) detected the burst for more than 10 hours. One reason for the burst’s brightness and longevity is that, for a GRB, it lies relatively close to us.

The burst also provided a long-awaited inaugural observing opportunity for a link between two experiments on the International Space Station – NASA’s NICER X-ray telescope and a Japanese detector called the Monitor of All-sky X-ray Image (MAXI). Activated in April, the connection is dubbed the Orbiting High-energy Monitor Alert Network (OHMAN). It allows NICER to rapidly turn to outbursts detected by MAXI, actions that previously required intervention by scientists on the ground.

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