Scientists at NASA believe that they’ve found evidence of the youngest black hole in our cosmic neighborhood, thanks to NASA’s Swift satellite, “Chandra.” According to NASA, the reported black hole is just 30 years old–a remnant of SN 1979C, which is a supernova in the galaxy M100. Galaxy M100 is about 50 million light years away from earth. In space terms, this means that SN 1979C is practically a premature, newborn baby who lives next door to us.
Using data from Chandra, the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton, and the German ROSAT observatory, scientists discovered a bright source of X-rays from the supernova–X-rays that have remained steady from 1995 to 2007. The presence of this bright source of steady X-rays suggests that the object is “a black hole being fed either by material falling into it from the supernova or a binary companion.”
An amateur astronomer first discovered the supernova in 1979, hence the name “SN 1979C.” The supernova formed when a star about 20 times the size of our sun collapsed.
If you’re wondering, this is not the first new black hole that’s been discovered–NASA points out that many new black holes in the “distant universe” have been detected in the form of gamma-ray bursts (GRBs). But, NASA says, SN 1979C is different because it is much closer and belongs to “a class of supernovas unlikely to be associated with a GRB.”
“This may be the first time the common way of making a black hole has been observed,” says Abraham Loeb of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (and co-author of the discovery). “However, it is very difficult to detect this type of black hole because decades of X-ray observations are needed to make the case.”
NASA notes that while they believe this is a black hole, they could be wrong–it could also be a “young, rapidly spinning neutron star with a powerful wind of high energy particles,” in which case SN 1979C would be the youngest known neutron star. So…either way, it’s a win-win situation.