Has a Recent, Nearby Supernova Become a Baby Black Hole?

This composite image shows a supernova within the galaxy M100 that may contain the youngest known black hole in our cosmic neighborhood. Credits: X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO/D.Patnaude et al, Optical: ESO/VLT, Infrared: NASA/JPL/Caltech

Back in 1979, amateur astronomer Gus Johnson discovered a supernova about 50 million light years away from Earth, when a star about 20 times more massive than our Sun collapsed. Since then, astronomers have been keeping an eye on SN 1979C, located in M 100 in the Virgo cluster. With observations from the Chandra telescope, the X-ray emissions from the object have led astronomers to believe the supernova remnant has become a black hole. If so, it would be the youngest black hole known to exist in our nearby cosmic neighborhood and would provide astronomers the unprecedented opportunity to watch this type of object develop from infancy.

“If our interpretation is correct, this is the nearest example where the birth of a black hole has been observed,” said astronomer Daniel Patnaude during a NASA press briefing on Monday. Patnaude is from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and is the lead author of a new paper.

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