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A few weeks after so many of us enjoyed Independence Day fireworks, scientists helming the Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System (ATLAS) survey in Hawaii gawked at a different sort of light show: something called AT2018cow, or simply the Cow. It burst out of nowhere and generated an enormous amount of buzz for several weeks, and then seemingly disappeared just as fast.
What the heck was the Cow? Astronomers have spent that last six months trying to find an answer, and, as reported in a new study published Thursday in The Astrophysical Journal, it looks like we now have a much better idea of what exactly this mysterious phenomenon was. The problem is that it’s still pretty much a mystery.
Cow - Transient - Event - Object - Phenomenon
The Cow was what’s called a transient astronomical event, where an object or phenomenon exhibits an extremely short duration (anywhere from seconds to years, which sounds broad—but in cosmic terms, pretty much anything less than several million years is a blink of an eye). And when the giant bright flash was first spotted, nobody knew what to make of it.
“At the time, from the information that was here, we knew there was a force, and it was a brightening flash, but it was not clear whether the source was in our own galaxy or not,” says Raffaella Margutti, an astronomer at Northwestern University and the lead author of the new paper detailing the findings. Another research team was able to verify the Cow was not part of our own galaxy—it sprang up in the CGCG 137-068 galaxy, which is 200 million light-years away in the constellation Hercules. From then on, astronomers knew for certain they had stumbled upon the closest transient object of its kind ever found.
Cow - Supernova - Luminosity - Scales—about
Initially, many suspected the Cow was a supernova, but the luminosity was off the scales—about 10 to...
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