From NASA NuSTAR: “Holy Cow! Mysterious Blast Studied with NASA Telescopes”

NASA NuSTAR
From NASA NuSTAR

Jan. 10, 2019

Calla Cofield
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
626-808-2469
calla.e.cofield@jpl.nasa.gov

By Jeanette Kazmierczak
jeanette.a.kazmierczak@nasa.gov
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

1
AT2018cow erupted in or near a galaxy known as CGCG 137-068, which is located about 200 million light-years away in the constellation Hercules. This zoomed-in image shows the location of the “Cow” in the galaxy. Credits: Sloan Digital Sky Survey

A brief and unusual flash spotted in the night sky on June 16, 2018, puzzled astronomers and astrophysicists across the globe. The event — called AT2018cow and nicknamed “the Cow” after the coincidental final letters in its official name — is unlike any celestial outburst ever seen before, prompting multiple theories about its source.

Over three days, the Cow produced a sudden explosion of light at least 10 times brighter than a typical supernova, and then it faded over the next few months. This unusual event occurred inside or near a star-forming galaxy known as CGCG 137-068, located about 200 million light-years away in the constellation Hercules. The Cow was first observed by the NASA-funded Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System telescope in Hawaii.

ATLAS telescope, First Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert system (ATLAS) fully operational 8/15/15 Haleakala , Hawaii, USA, Altitude 4,205 m (13,796 ft)

So exactly what is the Cow? Using data from multiple NASA missions, including the Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory and the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR), two groups are publishing papers that provide possible explanations for the Cow’s origins.

NASA Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory

One paper argues that the Cow is a monster black hole shredding a passing star. The second paper hypothesizes that it is a supernova — a stellar explosion — that gave birth to a black hole or a neutron star. [No links to journals or papers provided.]

Researchers from both teams shared their interpretations at a panel discussion on Thursday, Jan. 10, at the 233rd American Astronomical Society meeting in Seattle.

See the full article here .

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NuSTAR is a Small Explorer mission led by the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, also in Pasadena, for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The spacecraft was built by Orbital Sciences Corporation, Dulles, Va. Its instrument was built by a consortium including Caltech; JPL; the University of California, Berkeley ; Columbia University, New York; NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.; the Danish Technical University in Denmark; Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Livermore, Calif.; ATK Aerospace Systems, Goleta, Calif., and with support from the Italian Space Agency (ASI) Science Data Center.

NuSTAR’s mission operations center is at UC Berkeley, with the ASI providing its equatorial ground station located at Malindi, Kenya. The mission’s outreach program is based at Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, Calif. NASA’s Explorer Program is managed by Goddard. JPL is managed by Caltech for NASA.

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