Astronomers witnessed an extraordinary cosmic event, dubbed the BOAT, in October 2022, leading to new insights into the universe’s dynamic processes and the significance of collaborative scientific discovery. The event was described as the brightest cosmic event ever recorded and was detected by NASA’s Fermi Gamma-Ray Satellite and Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory, which automatically alerted scientists to the unusual phenomenon.
Stephen Lesage, a graduate student at the University of Alabama, Huntsville, received the alert and quickly coordinated with a team of scientists to analyze the event. The cosmic burst, known as the BOAT, turned out to be the brightest at X-ray and gamma-ray energies, potentially since the beginning of civilization.
The event exemplifies what astronomers refer to as Time-Domain and Multimessenger Astronomy, referring to events observed as they unfold in the universe, such as supernovae or the merger of neutron stars.
The BOAT prompted a massive international effort, involving more than 150 telescopes in space and on Earth, to gather comprehensive details about the event.
Just five months after the BOAT, another significant gamma-ray burst, GRB 230307A, was observed, marking the second-brightest in the last 50 years. This event, which lasted 200 seconds, may have originated from the merger of two neutron stars about a billion light-years away. NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope detected the rare element tellurium, suggesting that such mergers create heavy elements.
The discovery of gravitational waves in 2015 opened a new era of observing the universe and combining various messengers to study sudden cosmic events. Scientists combined gravitational wave observations with data from ground and space-based observatories to study a kilonova, resulting in unprecedented insights about the universe.
The multimessenger approach plays a crucial role in ruling out scenarios and providing new information, even when there are no detections. The unprecedented bright light from the BOAT has kept astronomers busy, leading to a deeper understanding of the extreme phenomena.
As time-domain and multimessenger astronomy continue to evolve, new “watcher” satellites will be launched, including CubeSats to monitor gamma-ray signals, enhancing the capabilities of detecting transient events and providing new discoveries about the universe.
The future is bright for astronomers studying transient events, and as new telescopes and instruments are deployed, the field of astronomy is set to reach new heights.