Astronomers spotted a unique space cataclysm, the Tasmanian Devil, for the first time

Dmytro IvancheskulNews
Artistic illustration of a fast blue optical transient (FBOT)

Astronomers from all over the world witnessed a unique cosmic cataclysm called the Tasmanian Devil when the remnants of a dead star flashed brightly for several months. Scientists admit that nothing like this has ever been observed in the history of astronomy.

The study was published in Nature. This is a unique case of a phenomenon that scientists call the fast blue optical transient (FBOT).

Scientists see gamma-ray bursts in distant galaxies almost every day, and supernovae (collapsing giant stars) are already considered a commonplace phenomenon as astronomers observe hundreds of them every year.

But the LBOT is the rarest and most mysterious cataclysm. These are sudden, intense flashes of predominantly bluish light that flare even brighter than a supernova and last only a few days. Since 2018, only seven such flares have been observed, and one of them turned out to be even more unique than the others. After the initial outburst faded, the LBOT flared up again, not even once.

This strange LBOT nicknamed the "Tasmanian Devil" (the name comes from the last letters of the official designation of the phenomenon AT2022tsd), was seen by Cornell University astronomer Anna Ho and her colleagues working at the Zwicky Observatory in southern California (USA). There is a telescope with a camera that scans the entire night sky every few nights, looking for any unstable light sources. Scientists explain that detecting LBOTs is extremely important to understand their nature.

A few months after the first detection of the AT2022tsd LBOT, Ho and her colleagues saw the same point in space light up again, fading away in just a few minutes. They reached out to colleagues around the world and found that others had also seen flashes of this LBOT within three months of the initial outbreak.

It was found that it had flared up at least 14 more times. It also turned out that, unlike the first blue outbreak, the others were reddish in color and faded much faster, but undoubtedly came from the same source.

"We've never seen anything like this before - nothing as fast and as bright as the initial explosion a few months afterwards - in any supernova or LBOT. We've never seen anything like it in astronomy, period," Ho said.

Astronomers are not yet sure what causes LBOTs. The leading ideas link the event to something terrible happening to the star. LBOTs could be a previously unknown type of supernova caused by the fiery death throes of a particularly huge star, or they could be the result of a massive star falling into a black hole.

After such outbursts, scientists speculate, a black hole or an extremely magnetic neutron star, called a magnetar, may remain. This is hinted at by the wavelengths of light in the flares, as well as how quickly their brightness changes.

Only a relativistic jet, a beam of electrically charged particles that flies out of a black hole or neutron star at almost the speed of light, is likely to cause such a show.

Only black holes and magnetars can create such jets.

That is, as scientists suggest, LBOT may be a rare phase of stellar evolution.

There is also the possibility that LBOT is the explosive result of a collision between a star and a neutron star or black hole.

"This would mean that the black hole or neutron star did not form during the LBOT event, but already existed," Ho explained in an interview with Inverse.

In this case, the LBOT was an event that "activated" the neutron star/black hole and caused it to burst into flames.

Currently, astronomers continue to observe the Tasmanian Devil.

Earlier, OBOZ.UA reported that scientists have discovered energy blades that can cut stars in half.

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