The largest cosmic explosion ever has been discovered, and it has been going on for more than three years.
Dubbed AT2021lwx, the massive explosion is three times brighter than the brightest tidal disruption, where a star falls into a supermassive black hole.
It is also more than 10 times brighter than any previously discovered exploding star.
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An investigation, which was led by the University of Southampton, in collaboration with Queen’s University, estimates that the explosion took place nearly eight billion light years away, when the universe was around six billion years old, and is still being detected by a network of telescopes.
Using the Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert Systemin Hawaii, the Queen’s University researchers led the search for cosmic explosions and were able to process and analyse huge amounts of data.
They now believe that the explosion is a result of a vast cloud of gas, possibly thousands of times larger than our sun, that has been violently disrupted by a supermassive black hole.
Dr Matt Nicholl said: “At first, we thought this flare-up could be the result of a black hole consuming a passing star. But our models showed that the black hole would have to have swallowed up 15 times the mass of our Sun to stay this bright for this long.
“Encountering such a huge star is very rare, so we think a much larger cloud of gas is more likely.
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“Many massive black holes are surrounded by gas and dust and we are still trying to work out why this particular black hole started feeding so vigorously and so suddenly.”
AT2021lwx was first detected in April 2020 by the Zwicky Transient Facility in California, but it has taken until now to realise just how big the explosion actually is.
“We came upon this by chance, as it was flagged by our search algorithm when we were searching for a type of supernova,” said Dr Philip Wiseman, Research Fellow at the University of Southampton, who led the research.
“Most supernovae and tidal disruption events only last for a couple of months before fading away. “For something to be bright for two plus years was immediately very unusual.”
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