The largest explosion ever seen has been captured by astronomers—more than 10 times brighter than any known supernova, and 3 times brighter than the most radiant tidal disruption event, where a star falls into a black hole.
The explosion, known as AT2021lwx, was detected in 2020 in Hawai’i and California and has currently lasted over three years. For a frame of reference, supernovae are only visible for a few months.
“We came upon this by chance,” explains study author Dr. Phillip Wiseman, “as it was flagged by our search algorithm when we were searching for a type of supernova.”
It took place nearly eight billion light years away when the universe was around six billion years old—less than half its current age of 13.7 billion years.
“Most supernovae and tidal disruption events only last for a couple of months before fading away. For something to be bright for two-plus years was immediately very unusual.”
It is believed the incredibly powerful boom was caused by a vast cloud of gas thousands of times larger than our sun, that fell into the jaws of a supermassive black hole.
Fragments of the cloud were swallowed up, sending shockwaves through its remnants that are still being detected today.
Such events are very rare, typified by the think dusty ring left behind in the aftermath, and nothing on this scale has been witnessed before.
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