One of the brightest explosions ever recorded occurs in Earth’s ‘cosmic backyard’

An international team of scientists used the High Energy Stereoscopic System in Namibia to get the best observation yet of one of the brightest gamma-ray bursts ever recorded. 

The stellar explosion, dubbed GRB 190829A, happened just 1 billion lightyears away in the constellation of Eridanus, which may seem like quite a hike, but the typical gamma-ray burst occurs 20 billion lightyears away. 

Gamma-ray bursts occur when a star collapses in on itself, forming a black hole and releasing a massive burst of gamma rays. 

“Gamma-ray bursts are the most energetic and luminous electromagnetic events since the Big Bang and can release more energy in 10 seconds than our Sun will emit in its entire 10-billion-year expected lifetime,” NASA explains. 

The scientists, who published a study in the journal Science on their observation, were able to measure GRB 190829A’s afterglow for three days because it was so relatively close. 

“We could determine GRB 190829A’s spectrum up to an energy of 3.3 tera-electronvolts, that’s about a trillion times as energetic as the photons of visible light,” said Edna Ruiz-Velasco of Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics. 

“This is what’s so exceptional about this gamma-ray burst – it happened in our cosmic backyard where the very-high-energy photons were not absorbed in collisions with background light on their way to Earth, as it happens over larger distances in the cosmos.”

The research team was comprised of 230 scientists from 15 countries: Namibia, South Africa, Japan, China, Australia, Germany, France, the UK, Ireland, Italy, Austria, the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden and Armenia.