A NASA telescope was temporarily blinded by the brightest X-rays ever detected from beyond our galaxy. The blinding light came from a gamma ray burst, the sign of a massive star collapsing into a black hole 500 billion light-years away.

The burst, designated GRB 100621A, was so impossibly bright that astronomers at NASA's Swift space observatory initially throughout the data as junk. The blast lasted about a minute, but the satellite telescope got into position with only seconds to spare before it dissipated. The observations show that the burst was producing 145,000 x-ray photons per second, which is 10 to 15 times brighter than anything Swift had seen before.


After weeks of checking and double-checking the figures, the astronomers are convinced this wasn't an error - but that doesn't mean they really understand what caused it, as lead researcher Neil Gehrels explains:

"We're trying to grapple with what happened here. The best thinking is that it was still a burst of a black hole. But when this particular black hole was born, there was something particularly violent going on in the outflow.

You can see a more dramatic example of a gamma-ray burst up top, but Swift's actual image of the mysterious blast is below.

[Penn State Science]