Robot eyes are catching up with our exploding cosmos

 作者:司拂铕     |      日期:2019-03-15 02:05:11
NASA/JPL-Caltech By Colin Stuart ON 28 March 2011, at 9.47 pm Eastern Standard Time, NASA’s Swift satellite spotted a searing burst of light in the corner of its eye. Within seconds it had alerted astronomers on the ground, and their telescopes were soon trained on a dazzling spectacle. At the centre of a galaxy 3.8 billion light years away, a supermassive black hole was devouring a star that had strayed too close, tearing it apart to spark a gargantuan swirling firework. Then, suddenly, a narrow jet of radiation, pointed right at us, erupted from the black hole at close to the speed of light. Jaws dropped. We’d previously seen only a handful of these star-shredding displays, known as tidal disruption events, and only ever their afterglow. Now, watching the show from the start, astronomers could see exactly how the hot gas spiralled into the black hole. Seeing such pyrotechnics is not as rare as it once was. A new generation of rapid-reaction observatories are belying the apparent calm of the night sky, revealing the universe at its most violent and dynamic. In the process, we’re discovering all kinds of weird flashes and flare-ups – cataclysmic outbursts that open a window on physics under the most extreme conditions possible. “Our data is already full of things we can’t identify,” says Mathew Smith, an astronomer at the University of Southampton, UK. Astronomy is traditionally a sedate affair. We train our telescopes on small patches of sky for long spells,