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Mysterious Cosmic Explosion Puzzles Astronomers

For Release: March 30, 2017

CXC

cdfsxt1
Credit: NASA/CXC/Pontifical Catholic Univ./F.Bauer et al.
Press Image and Caption

A mysterious flash of X-rays has been discovered by NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory in the deepest X-ray image ever obtained. This source likely comes from some sort of destructive event, but may be of a variety that scientists have never seen before.

The X-ray source, located in a region of the sky known as the Chandra Deep Field-South (CDF-S), has remarkable properties. Prior to October 2014, this source was not detected in X-rays, but then it erupted and became at least a factor of 1,000 brighter in a few hours. After about a day, the source had faded completely below the sensitivity of Chandra.

Thousands of hours of legacy data from the Hubble and Spitzer Space Telescopes helped determine that the event likely came from a faint, small galaxy about 10.7 billion light years from Earth. For a few minutes, the X-ray source produced a thousand times more energy than all the stars in this galaxy.

"Ever since discovering this source, we've been struggling to understand its origin," said Franz Bauer of the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile in Santiago, Chile. "It's like we have a jigsaw puzzle but we don't have all of the pieces."

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