Astronomers have detected repeated explosions emitting energy billions of times that of the Sun.
The disquieting discovery occurred in the distant Universe, and has been nicknamed the ‘Tasmanian Devil’, although its formal name is AT2022tsd.
Publishing in Nature, a team of international scientists, including from Swinburne University of Technology in Australia say this rare and extremely powerful event called a Luminous Fast Ball Optical Transient (LFBOT) is behaving unusually.
LFBOTs usually evolve on the timescale of a few days and fade rapidly, however the Tassie Devil continued its explosive behaviour many times.
“An event like this has never been witnessed before,” says paper co-author Professor Jeff Cooke from Swinburne University of Technology.
When LFBOTs explode, “they emit more energy than an entire galaxy of hundreds of billions of stars like the Sun. The mechanism behind this massive amount of energy is currently unknown,” Cooke says.
“But in this case, after the initial burst and fade, the extreme explosions just kept happening, occurring very fast – over minutes.”
Instead of fading, the event kept exploding. Observatories detected at least 14 irregular and highly energetic bursts from the Tasmanian Devil over a 120 day period, which the authors say is probably only a fraction of the total.
Cooke says: “It pushes the limits of physics because of its extreme energy production, but also because of the short duration bursts.”
Possible theories include that a black hole or neutron star formed by the initial explosion is accreting an immense amount of matter and causing subsequent intense bursts.