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Astronomers spot weird near-Earth explosion

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A mysterious new kind of cosmic explosion has been spotted by scientists, according to NASA. The baffling blast was detected about 440m light years away in the constellation Aries, on 18 February.

Investigators using NASA's space-based Swift Ultraviolet/Optical Telescope say the signal is similar to a gamma-ray burst. However, the phenomenon is much closer and, at over half an hour, lasted 100 times longer than a typical gamma-ray burst.

Rather than portent that the universal cataclysm is nigh, Italian astronomers working on the data have hinted that it may be first view of a supernova from start to finish.

Earth-bound amateur astronomers in the northern hemisphere may be able to observe the enigma for themselves next week. NASA's pictures are available here. ®

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