Astronomers Capture Largest Cosmic Explosion on Record

    Astronomers Capture Largest Cosmic Explosion on Record
    Last updated May 12, 2023
    Image credit: The Guardian


    • A remarkable cosmic explosion, first captured by astronomers in 2020, has been revealed as the largest cosmic explosion ever witnessed. The event is believed to have been triggered by a giant cloud of gas eaten by a supermassive black hole per a study in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.[1]
    • A fast-moving burst of light was originally detected and recorded by scientists at the Zwicky Transient Facility in California three years ago. However, it took until 2021 for astronomers to discover this burst while reviewing the facility's data holdings.[2]
    • The team was baffled by what they saw. According to Dr. Wiseman, an astronomer at Southampton University, there was nothing in the scientific literature that could account for such a bright and long-lasting phenomenon.[3]
    • The specific explosions that happen as massive stars die only last a few months, but this event has been raging for at least three years.[4]
    • The explosive event labeled "AT2021lwx" has been traced to 8B light years away and is more than 10 times brighter than any known supernova.[5]
    • Simulations suggested that a star up to 15 times the mass of the sun would have been required to account for AT2021lwx. In three years, this event has released about 100 times as much energy as our sun will in its 10B-year lifetime.[6]


    Narrative A

    Astronomers are observing one of the most violent and energetic acts of cosmic cannibalism ever witnessed, perhaps the biggest explosion seen yet in the history of the universe. For a phenomenon like this to occur, you need a giant star that is being shredded by an enormous black hole. The black hole at the center of this event might have a mass of perhaps a billion times more than our own sun.

    Narrative B

    An alternative theory suggests that a supermassive black hole is consuming a cloud of gas and dust, not a giant star. A supermassive black hole is often surrounded by a ring of material, which has been knocked off its orbit and is being absorbed by the black hole. As this is happening, shock waves are spreading through the cloud, heating the matter in it and shooting out bright light. The jury is still out on the true nature of this cosmic cataclysm.

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