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Study explains brightest flash of light ever recorded

A record-bright cosmic flash recorded in 2015 wasn't caused by a supernova.

By
Brooks Hays
A record flash in 2015 was caused by a star's destruction by the gravity of especially massive black hole. Photo by Weizmann Institute of Science
A record flash in 2015 was caused by a star's destruction by the gravity of especially massive black hole. Photo by Weizmann Institute of Science

REHOVOT, Israel, Dec. 15 (UPI) -- In 2015, observatories picked up the brightest flash recorded in the history of the cosmos. Normally, intense flashes of light indicate the explosive death of a star, a supernova. But no supernova could explain the intensity of the flash.

The mystery didn't last long. A new study, published this week in the journal Nature Astronomy, has offered an explanation for the record burst of luminosity. The flash was caused by the destruction of a star consumed by a black hole at the center of a distant galaxy.

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The event occurred in an old galaxy featuring an exceptionally massive, rapidly rotating black hole at its center. An analysis of the shifting light spectrum at the center of galaxy, before, during and after the event, suggested a star drifted too close to the gravitational tide of the black hole.

The star crossed the black hole's "event horizon" -- a rarity. Though the star was unable to escape destruction, the light generated by its consumption did escape, which is the reason the flash was witnessed by astronomers on Earth.

Astronomers believe the light's escape can be explained by the black hole's tremendous rotational speed, a relativistic speed approaching the speed of light.

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The mystery of the bright flash was solved by an international team of researchers, led by astrophysicists from Weizmann Institute of Science.

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