Every once in a while, space reveals a mystery that leaves astronomers scratching their heads. One of the latest entrants to this cosmic enigma club is an astonishing burst of light. It isn’t just extraordinarily bright but also appears in an utterly unexpected location. NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, have a close-up look at this baffling celestial event. It’s as puzzling as it is beautiful.
Introducing the LFBOT
This incredible burst of light goes by the name Luminous Fast Blue Optical Transient (LFBOT) – quite a mouthful, isn’t it? Picture it as a super-intense camera flashbulb going off in the universe.
Since their first appearance in 2018, only a few of these have been discovered. They happen approximately once a year. Their momentary nature is quite different from supernovae, which fade over weeks or months. LFBOTs, on the other hand, dazzle in the sky, reaching peak brightness. They then dimmed in just a few days.
💥The NASA/ESA @HUBBLE_space Telescope has found a bizarre explosion in an unexpected place…— ESA (@esa) October 6, 2023
The phenomenon, called a Luminous Fast Blue Optical Transient (LFBOT), flashed onto the scene where it wasn’t expected to be found, far away from any host galaxy. pic.twitter.com/SL0j58gWFw
The Finch – A New LFBOT
The most recent LFBOT discovery, affectionately named “the Finch” (or more formally, AT2023fhn), certainly played its part in living up to the LFBOT’s mysterious reputation. How so? Most of these bursts, in the past, were found within the spiral arms of galaxies.
They might originate from specific regions where stars are born. However, the Finch threw a curveball. It was found situated intriguingly between two galaxies, which makes its location a first of its kind. It’s like finding a bonfire blazing not in the middle of the forest but between two distinct woods.
Cracking the Case with Hubble
It’s one thing to detect such a phenomenon, and another to pinpoint its exact location in the vast expanse of space. Here’s where the Hubble Space Telescope proved instrumental.
As Ashley Chrimes, the lead author of the research paper on this discovery, remarked, “The Hubble observations were the crucial thing.” Without Hubble’s eagle eye, we would’ve been left with more questions than answers about the Finch’s peculiar location.
"The discovery poses many more questions than it answers."— Hubble (@NASAHubble) October 5, 2023
A Luminous Fast Blue Optical Transient is an intense burst that shines in blue light and evolves rapidly. Hubble pinpointed the location of one, but it confounded astronomers: https://t.co/cmdZFSg9kU pic.twitter.com/hxWSnC5pnt
So, What Caused the Finch?
Ah, the million-dollar question! Or, in this case, the multi-billion-light-year question. While some LFBOTs were assumed to be a rare kind of supernova originating from short-lived gargantuan stars, the Finch’s unique location makes this theory less likely. So, what are the other contenders?
One exciting theory suggests that LFBOTs, including the Finch, could result from stars being torn apart by black holes of intermediate mass (those weighing between 100 to 1,000 times our sun). In Finch’s case, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope might eventually help determine if this explosion occurred within a cluster of stars on the edges of one of its neighboring galaxies. Such a star cluster would be a possible location for these mysterious intermediate-mass black holes.
Another clear explanation revolves around the collision of two neutron stars that have been dancing around each other for billions of years. Imagine the energy when two very dense objects collide! Furthermore, if one of these neutron stars happens to be a magnetar (a super-magnetized neutron star), the resulting explosion’s brightness could surpass even a regular supernova’s.
The discovery of the Finch is a testament to the importance of ongoing observation and research in the realm of space. The Zwicky Transient Facility played a pivotal role in alerting astronomers about the Finch. The follow-up work with wide-field surveys and observatories like the upcoming Vera C. Rubin Observatory will be vital to deepening our understanding of these wonders.
In the grand tapestry of the universe, LFBOTs are but a mysterious stitch. As Chrimes aptly put it