Hubble Finds Youngest, Nearby Black Hole Candidate

Characteristics of 30-year old supernova remnant SN 1979C are consistent with predicted theory on birth of black hole or possibly a rapidly spinning neutron star

•If SN 1979C does indeed contain a black hole, it will give astronomers a chance to learn more about which stars make black holes and which create neutron stars. Image: NASA/Chandra
Far away in galaxy M100 we search for black holes. If SN 1979C does indeed contain a black hole, it will give astronomers a chance to learn more about which stars make black holes and which create neutron stars.
Image: NASA/Chandra

Space news (December 11, 2015) – 50 million light-years from Earth, in galaxy M100 –

One of the most enigmatic cosmic objects discovered during the human journey to the beginning of space and time, black holes continue to entrance and mystify both astronomers studying them and common people trying to imagine the possibility of such monsters existing. Black holes are also one of the most difficult celestial objects to detect since not even light rays can escape from the strength of their gravitational-embrace, once they travel beyond the imaginary point-of-no-return astronomers call the “event horizon” of a black hole.

Astronomers working with NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, after analysis of additional data provided by NASA’s Swift Gamma-ray Burst Explorer, the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton spacecraft, and German’s ROSAT Observatory, believe they have evidence to suggest 30-year old supernova remnant SN 1979C could be a black hole.

NASA and German ROSAT Observatory scans the x-ray sky.
The ROSAT Observatory scans the x-ray sky looking for supernovas that could have given birth to a black hole. Image: NASA.

Supernova remnant SN 1979C shined X-rays steadily during constant observation from 1995 to 2007. This suggests to astronomers either a black hole eating material left over from the supernova or a hidden binary companion feeding hot material to the monster hidden within 

“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.

Astronomers have detected new black holes that existed during the ancient past through gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) associated with them. SN 1979C is listed in a class of supernovae not expected to produce GRBs, which theory predicts could be the most common way to make a black hole.   

This may be the first time the common way of making a black hole has been observed,” said co-author Abraham Loeb, also of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. “However, it is very difficult to detect this type of black hole birth because decades of X-ray observations are needed to make the case.

The idea SN 1979C is a young, recently-formed black hole made from the remnants of a star with 20 times the mass of Sol, that went supernova some thirty Earth-years ago, is consistent with present theory. In 2005, a theory was put forth claiming the bright source of X-rays detected steaming from the supernova remnant is powered by a jet emanating from the monster that’s unable to penetrate the thick hydrogen envelope surrounding it.

Astronomers think there could be one other possibility for the identity of SN 1979C. It could be a rapidly spinning neutron star, with an extremely powerful wind of high energy particles. Present theory predicts this would produce the bright X-ray emissions detected during 12 years of constant observation. 

If this is true, this would make this supernova remnant the youngest known example of a celestial object called a pulsar wind nebula. The Crab Nebula is the best-known example of a bright pulsar wind nebula, but we would have to go back over 900 years to view it as a 30-year old. SN 1979C is a lot younger, which is a great opportunity to study one of the most enigmatic, yet difficult to detect celestial objects viewed during the human journey to the beginning of space and time.

It’s very rewarding to see how the commitment of some of the most advanced telescopes in space, like Chandra, can help complete the story,” said Jon Morse, head of the Astrophysics Division at NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

Jon Morse is a pioneer, leader and hero of the human journey to the beginning of space and time
Jon Morse is a pioneer, leader and hero of the human journey to the beginning of space and time. Image: Space.com.

Study continues

Astronomers will now continue to study SN 1979C, to see if they can determine its identity. No matter it’s true identity or nature, we can expect this celestial object to be one of the most studied examples of a young supernova remnant during recent times. 

You can learn more about black holes here.

Discover the journey of NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory here.

Learn more about NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center here.

Learn about the mission of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics here.

Take NASA’s journey through space history here.

Learn about NASA’s Swift Gamma-ray Burst Explorer here.

Take the journey of the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton spacecraft here.

Discover German’s ROSAT Observatory here.

Learn about hydrocarbon dunes detected by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft on Saturn’s frozen moon Titan.

Read about the Monster of the Milky Way as it comes to life.

Learn how astronomers study a galactic nursery using the Hubble Space Telescope.

The Anasazi civilization flourished throughout the American southwest over 1,000 years ago, before vanishing into the annals of history

Ancient Skywatchers of the American Southwest

The Anasazi civilization flourished throughout the American southwest over 1,000 years ago, before vanishing into the annals of history
The Anasazi Indians flourished throughout the American southwest

Anasazi Indians astronomy knowledge written in desert rocks

Ancient Astronomy – The Anasazi civilization flourished throughout the American southwest over 1,000 years ago, before vanishing into the annals of history. Forgotten on the hot mesas of the southwestern desert, remains of their stone cities and enigmatic causeways offer quiet testament to their innovation and determination. Carved in the desert rocks of New Mexico archaeologists also found symbols that indicate astronomy was an integral part of Anasazi society and that they spent hundreds of years watching and studying the sky.

Skywatchers of the American Southwest

Archaeologists believe the Sun Dagger, as the spectacle is called, was a calendar devised by Anasazi astronomers

Archaeologists believe the Sun Dagger, as the spectacle is called, was a calendar devised by Anasazi astronomers

Modern archaeoastronomers believe the Anasazi were ancient sky watchers who interpreted signs in the sky in order to construct a calendar they could use to aid farming. High on a ledge near the top of a soaring butte in New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon, they found three large stone slabs forming an opening, through which sunlight shined onto two spirals carved in the stone behind the slabs. For possibly longer than 1,000 years, until the slabs shifted due to erosion, beams of sunlight correctly predicted the summer and winter solstices, as well as the March and September equinoxes. Archaeologists believe the Sun Dagger, as the spectacle is called, was a calendar devised by Anasazi astronomers.

Anasazi astronomer recorded death of star

Displayed on a rock face, they found three colored figures, a hand, a crescent, and a rayed disk
Displayed on a rock face, they found three colored figures, a hand, a crescent, and a rayed disk

Archaeoastronomers also found marks on an overhanging rock on a cliff beneath the remains of the Anasazi town called Penasco Blanco suggesting Anasazi astronomers witnessed the death of a star almost a thousand years ago. Displayed on a rock face, they found three colored figures, a hand, a crescent, and a rayed disk. Painted on the sandstone wall beneath the figures is a dot, with two rings around it. Archaeoastronomers believe the cliff was possibly a post used by Anasazi astronomers and sun watchers, much like other similar posts archaeologists have found in the southwestern territories.

The crescent isn’t a figure archaeologists have seen carved in rock faces around the southwest very often, so they believe this could represent a spectacular event in the history of the Anasazi. The rayed disk some archaeoastronomers believe might represent an exploding star, which would have appeared in the sky around 1,000 years ago. At that time, over in China, astronomers recorded the appearance of a “guest star” in the sky on July 5, 1054. This guest star some archaeoastronomers believe was a supernova marking the death of a massive star in the constellation Taurus, the remains of which are the Crab Nebula.

Did Anasazi astronomers record the death of a star 1,000 years ago in paintings they carved in an overhanging rock below the town of Penasco Blanco? Some archaeoastronomers believe this might be the case. NASA astronomer John Brandt tried to verify this in 1979, by having a friend reproduce the night sky above the town in July 1054. They discovered the night sky above the town was almost exactly as depicted in the rock face in Chaco Canyon.

If the evidence is assembled and to be believed, around 1,000 years ago an Anasazi astronomer took up his post below the town of Penasco Blanco as the sun was about to rise above the horizon. Keeping his eyes toward the eastern horizon, he observed as the moon rose with a star of amazing brilliance suspended almost in the curve of its upside-down crescent. Captivated by the appearance of this guest star in the sky, the astronomer marked the moment in time by carving its image into the rock.

Watch this YouTube video on the Anasazi Indians https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6KkJNyZUx9s.

Read about NASA’s Messenger spacecraft and its mission to Mercury

Have you heard about the recent meteorite that exploded near the Ural Mountains

Read about the supernova astronomers are studying looking for a black hole they think was created during the explosion