Astronomers using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory have found evidence for the youngest black hole known in our cosmic neighborhood - a mere 30 years old -- that provides a unique opportunity to watch a black hole develop during its infancy. The object could help scientists better understand how massive stars explode, which ones leave behind black holes or neutron stars, and how many black holes are in our galaxy and others.
The object is a remnant of SN 1979C, a supernova in the galaxy M100 that, which lies 50 million light years from Earth. Data from Chandra, as well as NASA's Swift, the European Space Agency's XMM- Newton and the German ROSAT observatory revealed a bright source of X- rays that has remained steady during 12 years of observation, from 1995 to 2007. This suggests that the object is a black hole being fed either by material falling into it from the supernova, or else a binary companion.
"If our interpretation is correct, this is the nearest example where the birth of a black hole has been observed," said Daniel Patnaude of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass. who led the study.