China's high-altitude observatory detects 'brightest-of-all-time' gamma-ray burst
By Sun Ye

The latest study by China's Large High Altitude Air Shower Observatory (LHAASO), has given the world its first understanding on multiple perspectives into the afterglow of what's been described as "the brightest-of-all-time gamma-ray burst."

The study was published in the academic journal Science on Friday.

Cao Zhen, chief scientist at LHAASO, elaborated on the significance of the study in an interview with CGTN.

"This was the first time that LHAASO precisely measured the entire light curve of high-energy photons from the afterglow of a gamma-ray burst, and the first time the rapid enhancement process of high-energy photon flux from a gamma-ray burst was measured," said Cao. "We also observed its rapid decay process, which explains why this gamma-ray burst is 'the brightest of all time'."

"The gamma-ray burst was a very surprising event, so rare, so special, so surprising and delightful that it was like fireworks," he added.

Cao said that while the world has studied gamma-ray bursts for over 60 years, in previously-measured explosions, events as bright as this one were very rare, occurring only once every 10,000 years.

"Then this beam of light happened to land right in the middle of LHAASO's field of view. You can imagine how this is even rarer than an event that occurs once every 10,000 years," He added.

Situated over 4,400 meters above sea level in Daocheng County, southwest China's Sichuan Province, LHAASO started running less than two years ago in July 2021.

It's the only facility in the world able to capture rare sighting events, and did so on October 19, 2022.

Speaking of the challenge, Cao said, "There was no starting point for this phenomenon, so you don't know when it happened and where it came from."

He said for such an instantaneous process, LHAASO's work is impressive.

"Because it works around the clock, it's able to observe one-sixth of the sky at any time. The data is continuously stored and can be reviewed at any time."

Cao also cited LHAASO's other remarkable features, for example, it can detect the highest-energy photons that humans are able to currently detect.

LHAASO now has scientists from over 30 domestic and international universities and institutes, working together in collaboration.

The latest publication in Science is only one in what's expected to be a long line of new findings from LHAASO.

"LHAASO is like a gold mine. In other words, it's like entering no man's land. People see many novel phenomena that have never been explored before," said Cao.

While LHAASO scientists say this particular gamma-ray burst was an unexpected event, Cao added that "we'll also discover new phenomena that gush out, according to our planned scientific objectives."

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