In other words, astronomy doesn’t just make glamour shots anymore: It makes biopics, giving a more realistic depiction of what the cosmos are really like. For millennia, astronomy has mostly felt like the study of static objects, because we live for 85 years and stars sometimes live for 8.5 billion. But today’s telescopes and their companion computers (which astronomers call “backends”) show us a universe that also changes in hours, days, and milliseconds.
Astronomers call this field of study “time domain astronomy.” “It’s opening up a brand-new way of looking at things,” says Petroff. “We’re so used to thinking of things that happen on billion-year timescales—the evolution of the universe in the big picture—but these bursts allow us to look at the universe on a small scale.”