Brightest gamma-ray burst of all time came from the collapse of a massive star

In October 2022, an international team of researchers, including Northwestern University astrophysicists, observed the brightest gamma-ray burst (GRB) ever recorded, GRB 221009A.

In a paper published in April 2024, a team led by CIERA Postdoctoral Fellow Peter Blanchard has confirmed that the phenomenon responsible for the historic burst — dubbed the B.O.A.T. (“brightest of all time”) — is the collapse and subsequent explosion of a massive star. The team discovered the supernova using JWST.

The researchers speculated that evidence of heavy elements, such as platinum and gold, might reside within the newly uncovered supernova. The extensive search, however, did not find the signature that accompanies such elements. The origin of heavy elements in the universe continues to remain as one of astronomy’s biggest open questions.

The image is a visualization by CIERA Professor Aaron Geller of GRB 221009A showing the narrow relativistic jets (emerging from a central black hole) that gave rise to the gamma-ray burst (GRB) and the expanding remains of the original star ejected via the supernova explosion.

Credit: Aaron M. Geller / Northwestern / CIERA / IT Research Computing and Data Services

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