View Full Version : Scientists Witness the Apparent Birth of a Black Hole

11-17-2010, 05:55 PM
For the first time, scientists have watched as a black hole was born. Thirty years ago, a star 50 million light-years away exploded, setting into motion the dynamics that create regions where gravity is so great that nothing can escape, even light.

Using a variety of satellites over the past three decades, scientists have traced the development of what they are almost positive now is a baby black hole.

For the first time, scientists believe they have witnessed the birth of a black hole.

The evidence began arriving 30 years ago from a star 50 million light-years away that had imploded, setting into motion events that created a region where gravity is so great that nothing can escape, even light.

The initial 1979 observation of the exploding star was made by an amateur astronomer from Western Maryland, but the profession's top scientists have studied it intently with increasingly sophisticated orbiting X-ray telescopes.

In announcing the discovery Monday at NASA headquarters, the researchers said that although the information they have collected is consistent with the birth of a baby black hole, they cannot rule out other possibilities. Nonetheless, they spoke enthusiastically about what they are learning and will learn about the evolution of black holes.

"We've never known before the exact birthday of a black hole, and now we can watch as it grows into a child and teenager," said Kimberly Weaver, an astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. "Learning about black holes has been like solving a puzzle, and this will help us get closer to a full understanding.

The researchers said that what they think is a black hole is about five times the mass of our sun and was formed from the explosion of a star about 20 times as massive as our sun. When very large stars explode - or go supernova - they may leave behind a fairly massive remnant that can then collapse in on itself. Eventually, it can collapse to the point of having no volume and infinite density - at which point it is a black hole.