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Black hole birth witnessed for the first time

by Jorge Hernandez on November 16, 2010

For the first time ever, a team of NASA astronomers believe they've witnessed the birth of a relatively nearby black hole.For the first time ever, a team of NASA astronomers believe they've witnessed the birth of a relatively nearby black hole.

Scientists first noted the evidence 30 years ago when backyard astronomer Gus Johnson observed a supernova, or an exploding star, 50 million light years away.

According to the BBC, US and European astronomers have since then observed the location using powerful X-ray telescopes such as NASA's Chandra telescope.

Black holes are formed when the collapsing core of an imploded star exceeds a certain pressure and forms an infinitely dense body with no volume. Because the body's gravitational pull is too strong for anything – including light – to escape, scientists observe black holes by focusing on the extremely bright lights that surround them.

According to the Washington Post, the X-rays from a supernova usually die down quickly, but because the radiation from Supernova 1979C did not die down over the 12 years it was observed, scientists are fairly confident that a black hole was forming in its place.

"While it's been steady, it's also been extremely bright. And we explain this high luminosity as evidence of accretion of supernova material back on to the black hole," said research leader Daniel Patnaude to the BBC.

Though the evidence is not conclusive, prompting scientists to exercise a bit of caution in making the announcement Monday, NASA astrophysicist Kimberly Weaver told the Washington Post that "we've never known before the exact birthday of a black hole, and now we can watch as it grows into a child and teenager."

Astronomers told the news source that if it is indeed a black hole, it's five times as massive as our sun and was formed from a star that was 20 times the sun's mass.

Though the data is relatively new, the light coming off the black hole is at least 50 million years old.

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