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An explosion in space nicknamed the Tasmanian devil has confused astronomers by flashing at peak brightness more than a dozen times, months after the initial event. The observation, while posing new questions, could help to narrow down what might cause such explosions, which are known as luminous fast blue optical transients (LFBOTs).
LFBOTs are seen across the Universe and defy explanation. The first, dubbed the Cow after its designation AT2018cow, was spotted in 2018 in a galaxy about 60 million parsecs (200 million light years) from Earth. The Cow was notable for being up to 100 times brighter than a supernova before dimming over just a few days, a process that takes weeks for a supernova.
More than half a dozen LFBOTs have since been found, including ones referred to as the Koala, the Camel and, earlier this year, the Finch. But astronomers are still not sure what is causing them. The leading ideas are that these explosions are either failed supernovae — stars collapsing into a black hole or neutron star before they can explode — intermediate-mass black holes consuming other stars, or the results of objects interacting with hot, bright stars known as Wolf-Rayet stars.