by Jennifer Chu, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
December 13, 2021
In June of 2018, telescopes around the world picked up a brilliant blue flash from the spiral arm of a galaxy 200 million light years away. The powerful burst appeared at first to be a supernova, though it was much faster and far brighter than any stellar explosion scientists had yet seen. The signal, procedurally labeled AT2018cow, has since been dubbed simply “the Cow,” and astronomers have catalogued it as a fast blue optical transient, or FBOT—a bright, short-lived event of unknown origin.