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A guide to cosmic fireworks, from stellar flares to black-hole beacons

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TO HUMAN eyes, the night time sky is serene, save for the moon and some wandering planets. Peer into area with a telescope that may scan the complete sky in days, nonetheless, and it seems as an amazing cosmic fireworks show – a riot of bangs and flashes radiating throughout the electromagnetic spectrum, from radio waves to gamma rays.

Astronomers are desirous to catch these fleeting astrophysical phenomena, often known as transients, as a result of they will reveal an amazing deal concerning the universe, from what matter does in essentially the most excessive circumstances to how the cosmos advanced. And we’re about to see much more of them because of the Vera C. Rubin Observatory in Chile, which is predicted to detect 10 million transients an evening when it switches on subsequent yr.

The difficulty is that, for the untrained observer, it may be tough to make sense of transients. For starters, similar-looking outbursts can have totally different origins and vice versa, such {that a} single supply may give rise to quite a lot of astrophysical signatures. That alone could make it tough to maintain observe of what’s what.

Right here, then, is a concise primer that additionally serves as a information to the causes and penalties of those ephemeral illuminations – and the way, in some instances, they problem our understanding of the physics that governs the universe.

Stellar flares

A residing star’s electromagnetic eruptions

Let’s begin with a simple one. A stellar flare is an explosion within the ambiance of a star that ends in an intense flash of radiation throughout the electromagnetic spectrum. When our solar flares, as an illustration, we see a sudden burst of brightness earlier than it shortly …

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