Supernova birth gives first glimpse of a baby black hole

NASA's Chandra X-Ray Observatory has spotted the youngest black hole ever observed. It's a wild thought, but in a universe built on astronomical timescales, this little guy might be younger than you.

About 30 years ago in a galaxy far, far away (but not too far, at only 50 million light years), a star about 20 times the mass of our sun collapsed into a supernova. Supernovae don't always result in black holes, but Chandra has been watching this one for the last ten years or so, and some remnant from the supernova has started spewing out a steady jet of X-rays that is consistent with a cute little 30 year old black hole.

Black holes can also form from events called gamma ray bursts, which are the most energetic explosions in the known universe, putting out as much energy in a few seconds as our sun will in ten billion years. Most black holes, though, are probably formed from everyday supernovae like the one that Chandra's been watching, and this marks the first time that this common method of black hole formation has been observed directly.

The name of the black hole is SN 1979C, and Chandra will continue watching it to see how it develops. If it's a good little black hole and eats its hydrogen, maybe one day it'll grow up into a supermassive black hole surrounded by a galaxy of its very own. Aww.


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