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UMD-Led Study Reveals Unique Structure of the ‘BOAT’—Brightest of All Time Gamma-Ray Burst

Scientists who detected the gamma-ray burst known as GRB 221009A last October dubbed it the BOAT: the brightest of all time. A paper published yesterday in the journal Science Advances this week offers a possible explanation for its powerful and persistent glow.

Gamma-ray bursts are the most violent and energetic explosions in the universe, releasing the same amount of energy in just a few seconds that the sun produces over its lifetime. According to scientists, GRB 221009A resulted from the collapse of a massive star into a black hole.

While examining troves of multi-wavelength data from the burst, a research team led by University of Maryland and George Washington University astronomer Brendan O’Connor found that GRB 221009A’s jet—the trail of high-energy particles expelled during its explosion—had an unusual structure. The jet exhibited a narrow core with wide, sloping wings, which was different from the types of jets seen in gamma-ray bursts produced by other cataclysmic events.

“GRB 221009A represents a massive step forward in our understanding of gamma-ray bursts and demonstrates that the most extreme explosions do not obey the standard physics assumed for garden-variety gamma-ray bursts,” said O’Connor, whose team used the Gemini South Telescope in Chile to observe the event. “GRB 221009A might be the equivalent Rosetta stone of long GRBs, forcing us to revise our standard theories of how relativistic outflows are formed in collapsing massive stars.”

In addition to O'Connor, several scientists from UMD’s Department of Astronomy contributed to this research: Associate Professor Brad Cenko, Postdoctoral Associate Igor Andreoni, Associate Research Scientist Alexander Kutyrev, and graduate students Gokul Srinivasaragavan and Erica Hammerstein. Joseph Durbak, a graduate student in the Department of Physics, is also a co-author.

This article is adapted from a release by George Washington University.

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