A ground-breaking observation has recently caught the attention of astronomers worldwide, changing the way we look at cosmic explosions. Known as ‘Luminous Fast Coolers,’ this newly discovered class of cosmic event is not only extremely rare but also astonishingly bright. The light output from these explosions makes them stand out even among the most luminous supernovas ever recorded.
Researchers studying the event have relied on data generated by the Asteroid Terrestrial-Impact Last Alert System (ATLAS) telescope network, spread across multiple locations like Hawaii, Chile, and South Africa. This telescope network allowed them to spot the extraordinary event in a galaxy bustling with sun-like stars, which are generally too small to result in a supernova.
Matt Nicholl, the lead author of the study and an astrophysicist at Queen’s University Belfast, made it clear that these are not typical supernovas. The unique data set effectively rules out the possibility of this being another run-of-the-mill celestial explosion. “We have named this new class of sources ‘Luminous Fast Coolers’ or LFCs,” he said.
To put things into perspective, supernovas are the colossal explosions that occur when large stars run out of their nuclear fuel, eventually collapsing and scattering their outer layers into space. They gradually rise in brightness over approximately 20 days and can shine billions of times brighter than the sun. However, they then take months to slowly dim.
LFCs, on the other hand, defy this well-known pattern. Within just 10 days, the newly observed explosion reached a luminosity surpassing 100 billion suns, only to almost entirely vanish a few weeks later. This rapid brightening and dimming make LFCs a phenomena unto themselves.
Shubham Srivastav, a research fellow also at Queen’s University and study co-author, pointed out that the event was located in a massive, red galaxy two billion light-years away. This particular galaxy houses billions of sun-like stars, yet none of them are large enough to end up as a supernova, adding another layer to the mystery of LFCs.
While the light emitted by these LFCs fades incredibly quickly, the entire event throws into question our current understanding of cosmic explosions. For example, the LFCs did not display any X-ray emissions, which are usually associated with the violent interactions between black holes and stars, known as tidal disruption events.
The researchers have sifted through older telescope surveys to find similar events. Their efforts revealed two more objects, one from 2009 and another from 2020, sharing the unique traits of LFCs. As for what exactly LFCs are, the scientific community can currently only guess. Nicholl speculates that the most likely explanation involves a collision between a black hole and a star.
What we do know is that these explosive events represent a newly classified, and quite rare, cosmic phenomenon that has yet to be fully understood. Continued research into similar explosions may eventually lead to more concrete answers.
Source: The initial report of this astronomical discovery was published by Live Science, which you can read here. The scientific paper the article is based on, “AT 2022aedm and a New Class of Luminous, Fast-cooling Transients in Elliptical Galaxies,” is available here.
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