Astrophysicists at NASA have detected a particularly bright GRB with the TESS telescope, which is designed to search for exoplanets outside our solar system. This explosion, named GRB 191016A, occurred on October 16, but only now its location, duration and brightness have been determined.
Gamma-ray bursts are the brightest explosions in the universe, usually associated with the collapse of a massive star and the birth of a black hole. They can produce as much radioactive energy as the Sun could have released in 10 billion years of its existence.
“Our results prove that this TESS telescope is useful not only for finding new planets but also for high-energy astrophysics. Such studies shed light on the behavior of matter in the deeply curved spacetime around black holes and on the processes by which black holes emit powerful jets into their parent galaxies.
Christa Lynn Smith, Associate Professor, Department of Physics, Southern Methodist University
GRB 191016A has a peak magnitude of 15.1, which means that this burst was 10,000 times fainter than the faintest stars we see with the naked eye. It seems like something special about this flash, but the brightness has to do with how far away the explosion took place. It is estimated that light from the galaxy GRB 191016A traveled 11.7 billion years before becoming visible with the TESS telescope.
Most GRBs are 160,000 times fainter than the faintest stars. The flash peaked in brightness somewhere between 1,000 and 2,600 seconds, then faded away until it dropped below TESS’s ability to detect it approximately 7,000 seconds after it was first detected.