The birth of a new black hole

WASHINGTON—An exploding star spotted 30 years ago in a nearby galaxy appears to be a newborn black hole, astronomers reported Monday.

X-ray observations suggest the supernova, called SN 1979C, is a black hole in the making, a team of U.S. and European astronomers said.

“If our interpretation is correct, this is the nearest example where the birth of a black hole has been observed,” Daniel Patnaude of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Massachusetts, who helped lead the study, said in a statement.

Amateur astronomer Gus Johnson of Maryland spotted the supernova in 1979 at the edge of a galaxy called M100 and astronomers have been peering at it since. Light and X-rays from the collapse have taken 50 million years to travel to Earth at the speed of light – 186,000 miles a second, or about six trillion miles a year.

NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton and the German ROSAT observatory have seen that it emits a steady source of bright X-rays.

Analysis of the X-rays support the idea that the object is a black hole and that it is either being fed by material falling back from an initial supernova, or perhaps from a twin star, the astronomers said.

Scientists believe black holes can be formed in a number of ways – in this case by a star about 20 times the mass of our Sun going supernova and then collapsing into an object so dense that it sucks surrounding material into its core.

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