Image: University of Oxford
Author profile picture

Oxford University astrophysicists have discovered an unusual explosion in a distant galaxy. The event, a Fast Blue Optical Transient (FBOT), demonstrated extraordinary behaviour, repeatedly peaking in brightness over short timescales. The study, published in Nature, suggests these intense flares are likely produced by a black hole. The FBOT, named AT2022tsd, is located 4.4 billion light-years away.

  • Oxford astrophysicists discover AT2022tsd, an FBOT in a distant galaxy;
  • It displays extraordinary and rapid brightness peaks, challenging conventional celestial explosion characteristics;
  • The FBOT’s luminosity, reaching up to 100 times that of typical supernovae, poses a unique puzzle for scientists, hinting at an energetic process beyond current stellar behavior comprehension.

The mystery of AT2022tsd

The discovery of AT2022tsd has left researchers at Oxford University both intrigued and perplexed. This particular FBOT stood out due to its repeated surges in brightness, a characteristic not typically associated with celestial explosions. According to Professor Stephen Smartt, these flares exhibited an unprecedented rapidity, akin to a flickering candle in the void of space. The question posed to the astrophysical community is clear: how does an object reignite so luminously and so swiftly?

The flares of AT2022tsd, much brighter than the brightest supernovae, reached up to 100 times the luminosity of a typical supernova. The explosive bursts of light from this FBOT, which evolved and dimmed within mere days, are indicative of an extremely energetic process at play, one that defies our current understanding of stellar behaviour.

Implications for astrophysics

The study led by Cornell University and published in Nature is a testament to the collaborative nature of modern astrophysics. The research draws on the Rubin Observatory in Chile’s capability to detect FBOTs and emphasises the role of theory in interpreting observational data.

The findings from AT2022tsd are more than just a new entry in the catalogue of cosmic phenomena; they challenge our fundamental understanding of stellar evolution and death. The unique characteristics of this FBOT provide a new puzzle for scientists to solve, one that could reveal previously unknown aspects of the universe’s behaviour.

As the scientific community stands on the precipice of a new era of astronomical discovery, the study of FBOTs like AT2022tsd will undoubtedly play a pivotal role. These intense bursts of light, speaking to us across the vastness of space, hold the keys to unravelling the secrets of the universe’s most enigmatic occupants—the black holes.