A Science First: Witnessing the Birth of a Black Hole

A Science First: Witnessing the Birth of a Black Hole

Oddly shaped supernova leads scientists to believe they’re seeing the birth of a black hole.

W49B, black hole, astronomyNASA’s Chandra X-ray observatory may have captured a galactic first.  The infancy of a black hole emerging from the stellar remnant W49B is likely in the process of developing, based on several independent observations.  The composite image was created with data from Chandra, radio data from The NSF’s Very Large Array, and infrared data from Caltech’s Palomar Observatory.

When stars collapse and supernova, they generally align symmetrically, sending stellar material evenly in all directions.  When W49B exploded, material was ejected from the poles much faster than from its equator.

In galactic timelines, the stellar remnant is only 1,000 years old, when viewed from Earth, a true baby.  When scientists traced the distribution of different elements their data suggested an asymmetrical explosion.  The shape of W49B is also odd, looking more barrel-shapped than other stellar remnants previously observed.

The data was scoured closely and no evidence was found indicating that the resulting explosion produced a neutron star. W49B is about 26,000 light years away, meaning that the light now reaching Earth provides scientists a picture of what the supernova looked like when it was 1,000 years old.

Image: Chandra X-ray Observatory

Source: Lopez L, Ramirez-Ruiz E, Castro D, & Pearson S (2013). The Galactic Supernova Remnant W49B Likely Originates from a Jet-Driven, Core-Collapse Explosion Astrophysical Journal arXiv: 1301.0618v1

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Zachary Urbina

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