In the optical sky, minutes-duration transients from cosmological distances are rare. Known objects that give rise to such transients include gamma-ray bursts (GRBs), the most luminous explosions in the Universe1 that have been detected at redshifts as high as z ≈ 9.4 (refs. 2,3,4). These high-redshift GRBs and their associated emission can be used to probe the star formation and reionization history in the era of cosmic dawn. Here, we report a near-infrared transient with an observed duration shorter than 245 s that is coincident with the luminous star-forming galaxy GN-z11 at z ≈ 11. The telluric absorption shown in the near-infrared spectrum indicates that its origin is above the Earth’s atmosphere. We can rule out the possibility of known man-made objects or moving objects in the Solar System on the basis of the observational information and our current understanding of the properties of these objects. As some long-duration GRBs are associated with a bright ultraviolet or optical flash5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14, we investigate the possibility that the detected signal arose from a rest-frame ultraviolet flash associated with a long GRB from GN-z11. Despite the very low probability of being a GRB, we find that the spectrum, brightness and duration of the transient are consistent with such an interpretation. Our result may suggest that long GRBs can be produced as early as 420 million years after the Big Bang.
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The Keck MOSFIRE data of this work are publicly available from the Keck Observatory Archive (https://www2.keck.hawaii.edu/koa/public/koa.php). The long GRBs used for a simulation are publicly available from a GRB archive website (https://swift.gsfc.nasa.gov/archive/grb_table.html/). Source data are provided with this paper. Other data of this study are available from the corresponding authors upon reasonable request.
The Keck MOSFIRE data were reduced using a publicly available data reduction pipeline (https://github.com/Keck-DataReductionPipelines/MosfireDRP). The GN-z11-flash spectra were extracted and calibrated using standard IRAF routines (https://iraf-community.github.io/).
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We acknowledge support from the National Science Foundation of China (grant nos. 11721303, 11890693 and 11991052), the National Key R&D Program of China (grant nos. 2016YFA0400702 and 2016YFA0400703) and the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) through a China–Chile Joint Research Fund (grant no. 1503) administered by the CAS South America Center for Astronomy. N.K. acknowledges support from the JSPS (grant no. 15H03645). The data presented herein were obtained at the W. M. Keck Observatory, which is operated as a scientific partnership among the California Institute of Technology, the University of California and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The Observatory was made possible by the generous financial support of the W. M. Keck Foundation. We wish to recognize and acknowledge the very significant cultural role and reverence that the summit of Mauna Kea has always had within the indigenous Hawaiian community. We are most fortunate to have the opportunity to conduct observations from this mountain. This research has made use of data provided by CalSky.com and by the IAU’s Minor Planet Center.
The authors declare no competing interests.
Peer review information Nature Astronomy thanks Dieter Hartmann and the other, anonymous, reviewers for their contribution to the peer review of this work.
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(a) Comparison with a reference star. Each of the 10 blue profiles (centered at x = 10) is the best Gaussian fit to an observed profile at one wavelength position. The observed profile is the stack of 30 individual profiles along the wavelength direction. The 10 black profiles (also centered at x = 10) are the best-fitted profiles at the same positions for a bright reference star on a neighboring slit. The profiles are normalized so that the peak values are about 10. The insets show parts of the 2D spectrum centered at 2.15 and 2.25 μm, respectively. (b) Line profiles of an alignment star. The black profile presents a slit centered on the brightest pixel. The orange, blue, and green profiles present three slits that are off the center by +2, +3, and +4 pixels, respectively. The profiles are normalized so that the peak values are about 10.
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Jiang, L., Wang, S., Zhang, B. et al. A possible bright ultraviolet flash from a galaxy at redshift z ≈ 11. Nat Astron 5, 262–267 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41550-020-01266-z
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