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Hubble spots a mysterious explosion, LFBOT, in a place it should not have happened

The sky seems calm when we look at it. In reality, however, a lot is happening out there in the universe. For instance, there are bright bursts of light caused by exploding stars, massive collisions between celestial objects and LFBOT.

Considering these events are usually faint, only powerful telescopes that constantly watch the night sky can pick them up. This is precisely what Hubble has done.

NASA’s Hubble Space Technology is known to pick up a lot of unusual sights. But no one thought it would pick up the LFBOT. Even more remarkable is where the space telescope picked it up – a place incredibly far from any host galaxy.

What is LFBOT?

The Luminous Fast Blue Optical Transient (LFBOT) is a class of astronomical transients characterized by rapid and super bright evolution, rising and fading in just a few days. In addition to its blue color, another notable characteristic of the LFBOT is the featureless blackbody-like spectra with temperatures greater than 10,000K.

LFBOT is known for its shared features with supernova explosions of massive stars and explosions generating gamma-ray bursts (GRBs), but with distinctive differences from each.

The latest LFBOT – The Flinch

The first-ever LFBOT, AT2018cow, was discovered in June 2018 in a galaxy 200 million light-years away in the constellation Hercules. Since then, only a few of these have been spotted, including the CSS161010 and ZTF18abvkwla. At the moment, they are only seen once a year.

The latest LFBOT is nicknamed “the Finch ” and designated AT2023fhn. Like previously discovered LFBOTs, it also shined in blue light but did not take weeks or months to return to low brightness after peaking. Instead, it took the Flinch just days to dim.

Also, while previously discovered LFBOTs have been spotted in spiral arms of galaxies where star birth is occurring, the AT2023fhn was spotted between two neighboring galaxies. It was about 50,000 light years from a nearby spiral galaxy and about 15,000 light years from a smaller galaxy. 

LFBOTs are complex, and so is Flinch

The complexity of the LFBOT means only Hubble could detect its location. However, despite locating it, Hubble cannot determine what LFBOTs are, thus ruling out some possible theories.

Speaking on the peculiarities of the Flinch, Ashley Chrimes, a European Space Agency Research Fellow, formerly of Radboud University, Nijmegen, identified the Hubble observations as the most important piece of the puzzle.

“They (the findings) made us realize that this was unusual compared to the other ones like that, because without the Hubble data we would not have known,” said Chrimes. She also doubles as the lead author of the Hubble paper, which is expected to report the discovery in the next issue of the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (MNRAS).

“The more we learn about LFBOTs, the more they surprise us. We’ve now shown that LFBOTs can occur a long way from the center of the nearest galaxy, and the location of the Finch is not what we expect for any kind of supernova.”

Astronomers first spotted the Flinch in April 2013, courtesy of the Zwicky Transient Facility, a super camera assigned to scan the entire northern sky every two days. This initial spotting prompted the researchers to activate a standby program of observations designed to elucidate any potential LFBOT candidates observed. 

What does this discovery mean?

The discovery of the Flinch may have uncovered more questions than answers. As noted by Chimes, “more work is needed to figure out which of the many possible explanations is the right one.”

Researchers may now require a larger sample to understand the phenomenon better. There are also high expectations for the ground-based Vera C. Rubin Observatory and other upcoming all-sky survey telescopes to detect more details that will help the quest to understand LFBOTs.

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