Most Distant Cosmic Explosion Ever May Have Been Photobombing Russian Space Junk

A bright flash of light, believed to be from the most distant cosmic explosion ever spotted by astronomers, may have a more down-to-earth explanation—light reflected from space junk.

According to research published in 2020 and authored by Kavli Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics and Peking University researcher Linhua Jiang and his team, the gamma-ray burst (GRB) was traced back to GN-z11 32. This is a galaxy so distant that the Hubble Space Telescope sees it as it was 13.2 billion years ago, just 400 million years after the Big Bang.

Two new research papers published in the journal Nature Astronomy suggest that the flash of light was actually more of a flash in the pan. The authors of one new paper—including Adam Mickiewicz University, Astronomical Observatory, and Faculty of Physics researcher, Michał Jerzy Michałowski—suggest that the burst of light was actually light reflected from a spent Russian rocket that “photobombed” the astronomers as they were collecting data.

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