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First compelling evidence for a black hole after recent supernova

Published by Klaus Schmidt on Thu Nov 18, 2010 11:37 am via: Eurekalert
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Possible birth of a black hole in our cosmic backyard

Amsterdam — Black holes, or the remnants of hyper-or supernova explosions, have intrigued scientists since the concept was first introduced in 1967. Astronomers have only ever been able to observe gamma-ray bursts, considered the births of young black holes, at far distance. Researchers have now found compelling evidence for the birth of a black hole in the so-called local Universe–representing the youngest black hole ever discovered in our cosmic neighborhood. The results of this research have been published in the most recent issue of the Elsevier journal New Astronomy vol 16 Issue 3.

Making use of archival data from the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, astronomers Daniel Patnaude, Avi Loeb and Christine Jones had a closer look at SN 1979C, a supernova in the galaxy M100. Earlier studies by Kasen and Bildsten (2010) and by Woosley (2010) suggested that SN 1979C, a “type IIL supernova”, may have been powered by the birth of a magnetar – a neutron star with an extremely strong magnetic field. Observing a remarkably constant X-ray luminosity from supernova SN 1979 however, the authors propose that the late time glow of the supernova is more consistent with a stellar mass black hole accreting material from either a fallback disk or from a binary companion. They conclude that SN 1979C is likely to harbor a black hole with a mass five times that of the Sun. Furthermore, the black hole may be accreting matter from its surroundings or from a companion star.

“This is potentially a very important result. Seeing a black hole being born is exciting in its own right, but it also informs our models of how massive stars die and make supernovae. How did the implosion of the inner five solar masses of a massive star to a black hole create an explosion of the rest of the star and an extremely brilliant display, i.e. SN 1979C? Is the observed X-ray emission truly a unique signature of a black hole? We can expect to hear a lot more from the theorists on this one”, says Professor Stanley Woosley, Editor of the journal New Astronomy.

Publisher of New Astronomy, Jose Stoop, also remarked, “We believe that these critical observations will help reveal which stars end up as black holes, and which ones as neutron stars. The authors suggest that this particular supernova, formed when a star about 20 times more massive than the sun collapsed, could have been right on the edge of becoming a black hole”.

The data was derived from the Chandra X-ray Observatory. This Observatory is part of NASA’s “Great Observatories” program and was launched in 1999. The program also comprises the Hubble Space Telescope, the Spitzer Space Telescope and the now deorbited Compton Gamma Ray Observatory. NASA has organized a press conference on November 15th 2010 to discuss the above results. The press conference was broadcasted live at NASA TV.

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