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Baffling Explosion Challenges Understanding of Space Explosions

Key Highlights

  • A recent observation of a bright Fast Blue Optical Transient (FBOT) explosion challenges what we know about space explosions
  • Its aspherical shape, similar to a flat disk, is unlike any other explosion observed in the universe.

Scientists have been baffled by an explosion in space that was the size of our solar system but had a shape that challenges everything we know about space explosions

The Most Aspherical Explosion Ever Observed

The explosion, which occurred 180 million light-years away, was a bright Fast Blue Optical Transient (FBOT), a rare class of explosion that is much less common than other space explosions, such as supernovas. This particular FBOT had a shape like a disk emerging a few days after its discovery, making it the most aspherical explosion ever seen in space.

In the universe, explosions of stars are almost always spherical in shape, as the stars themselves are spherical. However, this explosion’s shape challenges our preconceptions of how stars might explode in the universe. 

It is still unclear how bright FBOT explosions occur. But, it is hoped that this observation, published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, will bring us closer to understanding them.

Dr. Justyn Maund, the study’s lead author from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, said, “Very little is known about FBOT explosions—they just don’t behave like exploding stars should, they are too bright, and they evolve too quickly. They are weird, and this new observation makes them even weirder.”

The Liverpool Telescope’s Role In Measuring The Polarization Of The Blast

Scientists made the discovery after spotting a flash of polarized light completely by chance. They were able to measure the polarization of the blast using the astronomical equivalent of polaroid sunglasses with the Liverpool Telescope located on La Palma. 

By analyzing the polarization, researchers were able to determine the shape of the explosion, providing a glimpse of an event as large as our solar system but located in a galaxy 180 million light years away.

The researchers were then able to reconstruct the 3D shape of the explosion and map the edges of the blast, allowing them to see just how flat it was. Despite having a small 2.0m diameter mirror, astronomers were able to reconstruct the shape of the explosion as if the Liverpool Telescope had a much larger diameter of approximately 750km, thanks to their study of polarization.

Researchers will now undertake a new survey with the international Vera Rubin Observatory in Chile, which is expected to help discover more FBOTs and further understand them. Although this particular FBOT was an unexpected discovery, it may provide valuable insight into the mysterious nature of these rare and enigmatic space explosions.

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