A distant star, dubbed “the Tasmanian devil” (AT2022tsd), has mystified astronomers by exhibiting an extraordinary series of energetic flares, challenging the conventional understanding of stellar cataclysms.
The luminous, fast blue optical transient (LFBOT) is located approximately a billion light-years from Earth and has rekindled, emitting bursts of light even 100 days after its initial explosion. LFBOTs represent a rare type of stellar cataclysm, distinct from typical supernovae or fast blue optical transients (FBOTs). The Tasmanian devil, identified with software developed by lead researcher Anna Y. Q. Ho in September 2022, stands out due to its unparalleled flare activity. Initially discovered by sifting through data from the Zwicky Transient Facility, the star has become a focal point for understanding the mechanisms behind such cosmic events.
Unlike standard supernovae, LFBOTs exhibit an unexpectedly rapid fading process, occurring over days rather than weeks. The Tasmanian devil’s resurgence, marked by bright spikes months after the initial explosion, challenges existing astronomical knowledge. Observations from 15 telescopes worldwide have led researchers to speculate that the engine propelling LFBOTs could be a black hole or a neutron star, remnants of massive stellar deaths.
Anna Y. Q. Ho, an assistant professor of astronomy at Cornell University, emphasizes the significance of this discovery, stating, “This settles years of debate about what powers this type of explosion and reveals an unusually direct method of studying the activity of stellar corpses.” The team plans to explore the processes driving these bursts of light, considering magnetic field-driven jets from black holes as primary suspects.
The unprecedented “return to life” exhibited by the Tasmanian devil prompts further investigation into the nature of LFBOTs. The possibility of colliding and merging black holes as a source of these phenomena adds an intriguing layer to cosmic cataclysms. The research aims to unveil more about the life and death of stars, offering a unique opportunity to observe stellar transitions and the properties of newly formed stellar corpses.
Anna Y. Q. Ho expresses the potential of LFBOTs in shedding light on stellar remnants, stating, “We think these flares could be coming from one of these newly formed corpses, which gives us a way to study their properties when they’ve just been formed.”
The enigmatic behavior of the Tasmanian devil holds promise for expanding our understanding of celestial events and the dynamic processes within the universe.