Can a Dead Star Keep Exploding?

This is an artist’s representation of AT2022tsd, an explosion in a distant galaxy. The image shows one possible explanation for the strange object. It could be a black hole accreting matter from a disk and powering a jet. Variation in the jet's direction could produce the observed rapid flashes. Image Credit: Robert L. Hurt/Caltech/IPAC

In September 2022, an automated sky survey detected what seemed to be a supernova explosion about one billion light-years away. The Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF) spotted it and gave it the name AT2022tsd. But something was different about this supernova. Supernovae explode and shine brightly for months, while AT2022tsd exploded brightly and then faded within days.

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Hubble Sees a Mysterious Flash in Between Galaxies

Artist’s concept of one of brightest explosions ever seen in space: a Luminous Fast Blue Optical Transient (LFBOT). Credit: NASA

While the night sky may appear tranquil (and incredibly beautiful), the cosmos is filled with constant stellar explosions and collisions. Among the rarest of these transient events are what is known as Luminous Fast Blue Optical (LFBOTs), which shine intensely bright in blue light and fade after a few days. These transient events are only detectable by telescopes that continually monitor the sky. Using the venerable Hubble Space Telescope, an international team of astronomers recently observed an LFBOT far between two galaxies, the last place they expected to see one.

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