Mysterious 'gamma-ray burst' is most powerful explosion ever detected

It’s sometimes worth thinking about just how lucky we are to live in a relatively calm and peaceful corner of the universe.

Now scientists have shown just how hostile the cosmos can be after spotting the most powerful explosion ever recorded.

Astronomers at the European Space Agency spotted a huge ‘gamma-ray burst’ in January this year.

These gigantic outbursts spew out more energy than any natural process in the universe, but their origins are mysterious.

The mega-booms emit lethal ‘gamma rays’ as well as a huge burst of light.

They produce so much energy that the only source could be a collapsing star which ejects material at 99.999% the speed of light.

This material then shoots through the gas that surrounds the star, causing a shock that creates a gamma-ray burst.

The burst spotted in January was named GRB 190114C and took place in a galaxy that’s 5 billion light-years from Earth.

A team from the European Space Agency used the Hubble Telescope to observe the gamma-ray burst.

‘Hubble’s observations suggest that this particular burst was sitting in a very dense environment, right in the middle of a bright galaxy 5 billion light-years away,’ explained Andrew Levan of the Institute for Mathematics, Astrophysics & Particle Physics Department of Astrophysics at Radboud University in the Netherlands.

‘This is really unusual, and suggests that might be why it produced this exceptionally powerful light.’

It’s believed the burst took place in a ‘nuclear region’ of a massive galaxy, which is its centre and ‘a location that is rather unique’.

This means the environment is denser than usual and could explain why the explosion was so powerful.

‘Scientists have been trying to observe very-high-energy emission from gamma-ray bursts for a long time,’ said Antonio de Ugarte Postigo of the Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía in Spain.

‘This new observation is a vital step forward in our understanding of gamma-ray bursts, their immediate surroundings, and just how matter behaves when it is moving at 99.999% of the speed of light.’

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