NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory has discovered evidence of the youngest black hole known to exist in our cosmic neighbourhood.
The 30-year-old black hole could help scientists better understand how massive stars explode, which ones leave behind black holes or neutron stars, and the number of black holes in our galaxy and others.
It is a remnant of SN 1979C, a supernova in the galaxy M100 approximately 50 million light-years from Earth; scientists believe SN 1979C, first discovered by an amateur astronomer in 1979, formed when a star about 20 times more massive than the Sun collapsed.
Data from Chandra, NASA’s Swift satellite, the European Space Agency’s
XMM-Newton and the German ROSAT observatory revealed a bright source of X-rays that has remained steady during observation from 1995 to 2007. This suggests the object is a black hole being fed either by material falling into it from the supernova or a binary companion.
The idea of a black hole with an observed age of only about 30 years is consistent with recent theoretical work. In 2005, a theory was presented that the bright optical light of this supernova was powered by a jet from a black hole that was unable to penetrate the hydrogen envelope of the star to form a GRB. The results seen in the observations of SN 1979C fit this theory very well.
Another intriguing possibility is that a young, rapidly spinning neutron star with a powerful wind of high-energy particles could be responsible for the X-ray emission. This would make the object in SN 1979C the youngest and brightest example of such a “pulsar wind nebula” and the youngest known neutron star.
The results will appear in the New Astronomy journal.