NASA’ Chandra X-ray Observatory discovers a pretty young Black Hole very near to our Solar system. This latest discovery opens the possibility of a better understanding of our universe, as this unusually elliptical Black Hole is understood to be caused by the death of a very young Star.
Researchers using data from NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory have discovered the remnant of a supernova that may contain the youngest black hole in the Milky Way Galaxy.
“It appears its parent star ended its life in a way that most others don’t,” said Laura Lopez in a news release. Lopez led the study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The supernova explosion that occurred when this star ran out of fuel was “peculiar,” NASA said. Oddities included the way the star exploded — with “jets shooting away from the star’s poles” — making the supernova elongated and elliptical.
Also surprising was what the supernova failed to leave behind.
There was no neutron star. The collapse of some massive stars leaves this dense, spinning core. But not this time. Megan Watzke, press officer at NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory, told the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday that, indeed, it’s that lack of evidence that points to the existence of a black hole.
“In this case … the lack of pulsations from the other possible explanation (a rapidly rotating dense star called a neutron star) add to the evidence that a black hole is there,” Watzke said. “In other situations, however, astronomers can detect the black hole’s presence by its influence on the material around it.”
The possible black hole and the reason behind it remain something of a mystery.
This supernova remnant, currently known as W49B, is about 26,000 light years from Earth, and is believed to have exploded about 27,000 years ago. (From here, though, it looks like it happened 1,000 years ago, thanks to the joys of Relativity.) What’s unusual about W49B is it isn’t spherical, which most supernova remnants are. Instead, it’s elliptical.
“In addition to its unusual signature of elements, W49B also is much more elongated and elliptical than most other remnants,” said researcher Enrico Ramirez-Ruiz in a press release. “This is seen in X-rays and several other wavelengths and points to an unusual demise for this star.”
This evidence is suggestive that rather than a typical supernova, this was actually a gamma-ray burst. As lead researcher Laura Lopez describes in a blog post, “The Chandra images reveal that W49B does have a ‘bar’ of iron, and the data shows that the relative amount of silicon and sulfur is much less than what theory predicts for a typical core-collapse supernova. Thus, the shape and metals of W49B show the explosion has the jets we associate with gamma-ray bursts.”
Most supernovas result in the formation of a neutron star – a small, incredibly dense body comprised almost entirely of neutrons. Neutron stars have a distinctive X-ray characteristic, which the research team looked for. Upon examination of data from the Chandra telescope, however, researchers found no sign of one. This indicates that the remnant is instead a black hole. If that finding is confirmed, it would make the black hole the youngest known in the Galaxy.
“With the superb imaging of Chandra, we looked for a neutron star, and we couldn’t find anything,” said Lopez in her blog post. “In fact, the deep observation allowed us to say there’s no neutron star in W49B that’s even 1/100 as bright as astronomers think it would be. This result supports the fact that W49B’s supernova formed a black hole, which is consistent with the explosion having been a gamma-ray burst.”