Biggest since Big Bang: James Webb telescope unravels origin of ‘BOAT’ – Times of India


NEW DELHI: The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has made a groundbreaking discovery, identifying the source of the most potent cosmic explosion since the Big Bang, known as “the BOAT” or “brightest of all time.” This gamma-ray burst (GRB), which sent highly energetic photons towards Earth, was first detected by ground and orbital telescopes on October 9, 2022, originating from 2.4 billion light-years away in the constellation Sagitta.
A team of scientists, after rigorous investigation, traced the origins of the BOAT to a colossal supernova that occurred following the collapse of a massive star. This event, however, has introduced a new layer of mystery in astrophysics. Despite expectations, researchers found no evidence of heavy elements like platinum and gold, which are typically forged in such cosmic cataclysms. Peter Blanchard, a lead study author and astrophysicist at Northwestern University, shared his insights, stating, “When we confirmed that the GRB was generated by the collapse of a massive star, that gave us the opportunity to test a hypothesis for how some of the heaviest elements in the universe are formed. We did not see signatures of these heavy elements, suggesting that extremely energetic GRBs like the BOAT do not produce these elements.”
The GRB from the BOAT was extraordinary not only in its origins but also in its intensity. It emitted some of the highest-energy photons ever recorded, an event so rare that Earth witnesses it only once every 10,000 years. The burst was initially so bright that it obscured any supernova signatures, likened to “the headlights of a car coming straight at you” by Blanchard. This brightness necessitated a waiting period of six months post-event before the JWST could observe the explosion site without the blinding afterglow.
Further observations with JWST’s Near Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSpec) revealed typical supernova elements like oxygen and calcium but no heavy elements beyond iron. This finding challenges the existing understanding of cosmic element formation, particularly in extremely bright explosions like the BOAT.
The researchers propose that the BOAT’s unusual luminosity could be due to its material being channeled through an exceptionally narrow relativistic jet, a hypothesis supported by co-author Tanmoy Laskar of the University of Utah. Laskar explained, “It’s like focusing a flashlight’s beam into a narrow column, as opposed to a broad beam that washes across a whole wall. In fact, this was one of the narrowest jets seen for a gamma-ray burst so far, which gives us a hint as to why the afterglow appeared as bright as it did.”
Looking forward, the team plans to use the JWST to study other supernovas to understand how the BOAT compares in terms of brightness, jets, chemical elements, and host galaxy characteristics. These studies are crucial in unraveling the conditions under which the universe’s heavy elements are synthesized, marking a significant step in cosmic research.


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