Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Young Black Hole - Not Exactly "Seen," But Detected

"Evidence Found for Youngest Black Hole Ever Seen"
Mike Wall, Space.com (November 15, 2010)

"A cosmic explosion seen 31 years ago may have been the birth cry of the youngest black hole ever observed, which could help researchers understand how black holes are born and evolve.

"Studying a baby black hole should also help astronomers understand what determines the fate of stars, as well as how common black holes are in our galaxy and throughout the universe, researchers said. [Photo of the baby black hole's location.]

" 'What's really exciting about it is we know the exact birth date of a black hole for the first time,' Kim Weaver, of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, told reporters today (Nov. 15). 'It's a wonderful opportunity for astronomers to look at these young systems.'..."

It's taken the light from SN 1979C, the name of the supernova that (very likely) generated the new black hole, around 50,000,000 years to get here - but what we're seeing now is light from a 31-year-old black hole - so, yes: Astronomers are looking at a young system.

50,000,000 light years is - quite a long distance. But on a cosmic scale SN1979C is close. And, if current models of how black holes form are right, this is a fairly 'typical' one. Although it seems to be about as small as that sort of black hole can be:

"...Researchers think the star that exploded to form SN 1979C was about 20 times as massive as our sun. Star masses dictate what happens to them after death, and this one appears to be right on the dividing line between two divergent fates.

"Stars less than 20 solar masses tend to form extraordinarily dense objects called neutron stars, while larger ones turn into light-swallowing black holes, researchers said. So SN 1979C should help them map out more precisely where that dividing line is.

" 'This supernova will help astronomers understand which stellar explosions make neutron stars and which ones make black holes,' said Alex Filippenko of the University of California, Berkeley...."

All of which won't help the Lemming start the van on cold winter mornings. But there's more to life than antifreeze and headbolt heaters.


Brigid said...

Somehow, a baby black hole doesn't sound cuddly.

Just had to say it. I mean, really? A baby black hole?

Brian, aka Aluwir, aka Norski said...


Yes: I see what you mean. Now that you mention it - the idea is - - - strange. I like it.

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