The Other Big Bang

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Twelve billion years ago, in a galaxy far, far away, an explosion took place that had the energy of a trillion yellow suns -- and was to stagger puny human minds when they eventually picked it up. On Tuesday, astronomers announced the discovery of gamma radiation leaking from this, the brightest event ever captured by human telescope, the biggest bang since the Big One. “For about one or two seconds,” said Caltech professor George Djorgovski, who publishes his findings today, “this burst was as luminous as all the rest of the universe.”

In other words, it was quite a show that gamma ray burst 971214 put on for us. Its sheer size -- 10 to 100 times more powerful than the biggest supernova -- has stargazers scratching their heads. "Something's going on out there that needs explaining badly," says TIME's astronomy expert Mike Lemonick. "If we find one with more energy, we're clueless ... maybe we need a new kind of physics."

Santa Cruz professor Stan Woosley thinks this is what happens when a black hole sucks in a dense neutron star. Lemonick questions whether this could be "two black holes crashing together." Professor Shrinivas Kulkarni, who booked time on the Hubble telescope to zoom in on the spot, believes we’re looking at a nursery of new suns. Perhaps baby stars -- like their human counterparts -- will do anything to get attention.