72 Extremely Bright Cosmic Flashes Baffle Astronomers

Posted: Apr 5 2018, 4:01am CDT | by , Updated: Apr 5 2018, 4:04am CDT, in News | Latest Science News

 
72 Extremely Bright Flashes of Light Baffle Astronomers
Credit: M. Pursiainen / University of Southampton / DES Collaboration

The mysterious transients were found in data from the Dark Energy Survey Supernova Program

Astronomers have detected 72 extremely bright flashes of light during a recent cosmic survey, but they are unable to explain exactly what they could be.

Data from the Dark Energy Survey Supernova Program shows that these bursts took place 4 billion light years away from Earth. They look similar to supernova, which are the largest explosions in the universe and occur at the final stages of a star’s life. But unlike supernovae, these transient events did not last long and disappeared within weeks.

The events seem to have extremely high temperatures ranging from 10,000 to 30,000 degrees Celsius. They can also vary in sizes and can expand up to hundred times the distance from Earth to Sun (Earth is 150 million kilometers from the Sun). These events apparently displayed fluctuations in both size and temperature as they evolve over time, similar to exploding event like supernova.

Although astronomers have spotted dozens of quick transient events over the course of survey, they still don't know what causes these rapid and powerful explosions. One possibility is that they originated from dying stars. Stars shed a lot of material before a supernova explosion. In extreme cases, they could be completely enveloped by a shroud of matter and this surrounding material can heat up by the energy of supernova itself. However, in this case researchers have observed only hot cloud instead of exploding star. Researchers believe they need more data to draw any conclusion.

The latest find is part of collaborative effort to map hundreds of millions of galaxies and to detect supernovae. The project is known as Dark Energy Survey Supernova Program (DES-SN). Its ultimate goal is to understand patterns of cosmic structure and to reveal the nature of the mysterious dark energy that is accelerating the expansion of our Universe.

“The DES-SN survey is there to help us understand dark energy, itself entirely unexplained. That survey then also reveals many more unexplained transients than seen before,” said researcher Miika Pursiainen from University of Southampton. “If nothing else, our work confirms that astrophysics and cosmology are still sciences with a lot of unanswered questions."

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