Gamma-ray bursts are pretty much the sweatiest apocalyptic events the Universe has to offer: A blast so ridiculously powerful that, in just a few seconds, it emits as much energy as the Sun will over its entire 10 billion year lifetime.
For two recent GRBs (as those in the know call them) even that wasn’t enough. These two emitted individual photons with the highest energies ever seen. One of them zapped out gamma rays with energies of up to a teraelectronvolt — equivalent to about 500 billion times the energy of photons our eyes detect!
This is important, because astronomers had predicted these kinds of energies could be achieved in GRBs, but it had never been seen before. These observations help us understanding what’s going on not just with the GRB itself, but how the expanding material in one interacts with the environment around it.
There are a few ways to make a GRB, but a common one is when an extremely massive star reaches the end of its life. The details, as you might expect, are just a tad complex, but the important bit is that the core of the star collapses, forming a black hole. Huge amounts of ...