On April 27, a powerful flash of radiation erupted from deep space. The flash, a gamma-ray burst (GRB), was the brightest on record, challenging some of the leading theories on how the most powerful explosions in the known Universe occur.
Triggered by the sudden collapse of a dying massive star, GRBs are thought to be energized by the resulting black hole that forms in its wake. The black hole birthing drives relativistic particles through the collapsing star material, generating a shock wave, producing a highly collimated beam of gamma-ray radiation. GRBs are considered to be the more energetic cousins of supernovae, but for the first time, this particular GRB - called GRB 130427A - was seen to occur alongside a supernova; an unprecedented observation.
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"We normally detect GRBs at great distance, meaning they usually appear quite faint. In this case the burst happened only a quarter of the way across the Universe meaning it was very bright. On this occasion, a powerful supernova was also produced, something we have not recorded before alongside a powerful GRB and we will now be seeking to understand this occurrence," said Paul O'Brien, of the University of Leicester, who collaborated on one of the five papers devoted to GRB 130427A published in the journals Science and Astrophysical Journal Letters on Thursday (Nov. 21).