NASA has announced that the Hubble Space Telescope has given astronomers a closer look at the location of the most energetic outburst ever seen in the universe. The gamma-ray burst was a trillion times more powerful than visible light. The gamma-ray burst was so powerful that NASA says it emitted more energy than the sun will in its entire life in only a few seconds.
The extremely bright and long-duration gamma-ray burst (GRB) happened in January 2019. The burst was detected by a suite of telescopes, including the NASA Swift and Fermi telescopes. The GRB was also detected by the Major Atmospheric Gamma Imaging Cherenkov telescopes in the Canary Islands. Hubble made follow up observations to study the environment around the GRB.
One goal was to find out how the massive emission was produced. Hubble observations suggest that the burst was sitting in a very dense environment in the middle of a bright galaxy 5 billion light-years away. The team thinks that the concentrated location might be why the burst produced exceptionally powerful light. The very bright GRB was a good thing for scientists as they had wanted to observe a very high energy emission for a long time.
The team says that the host galaxy of the GRB is one of a pair of colliding galaxies and that the galaxy interactions may have contributed to the powerful outburst. The outburst is known as GRB 190114C. Researchers consider the detection a milestone in high-energy astrophysics. Past observations revealed that to achieve the energy seen in the GRB, material must be emitted from a collapsing star at 99.999% the speed of light. That material is forced through the gas surrounding the star, causing a shock that creates the GRB. The observation by Hubble of lower-radiation energy from the region is a “vital step” in understanding GRBs.