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The Strange Case Of A Mysterious Cosmic Explosion

Gamma ray bursts (GRBs) are brilliant and extremely energetic cataclysmic explosions that originate in sources that are usually billions of light-years away from Earth–with a typical burst releasing as much energy, in only a few seconds, as our middle-aged 4.6-billion-year-old Sun will during its entire 10-billion-year lifetime. Indeed, GRBs are so energetic that some astrophysicists have hypothesized that a GRB occurring in our Milky Way Galaxy, pointing directly towards our unlucky planet, could result in a mass extinction event. In March 2017, a team of astronomers announced that they have discovered a mysterious flash of X-rays, using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, in the deepest X-ray searchvela image ever obtained. This strange and powerful X-ray source likely originated as the result of some sort of destructive event, but may be of a variety that scientists have never observed before. For a few brief shining moments, this bizarre X-ray source produced a thousand times more energy than all the stars in its distant host galaxy.

The brilliant and powerful X-ray source is situated in a region of the sky called the Chandra Deep Field-South (CDF-S), and it displays some unusual and remarkable properties. Before October 2014, this source was not detected in X-rays–but then it erupted! As the distant blast occurred, the source became at least a factor of 1,000 times brighter–in only a few hours! After approximately one day, the source had become fainter. Indeed, it had faded to the point that it was completely below the sensitivity of Chandra.

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