A new study out of MIT using data from the Chandra X-Ray observatory might have found the youngest black hole in our galaxy at around 26,000 years old.
25,000 light years away lies the supernova remnant W49B, pictured above as a composite image using infrared, radio and X-ray data from the Palomar, Very Large Array and Chandra observatories respectively. A team of astronomers from MIT, the University of California and the University of Copenhagen believe this supernova remnant to harbour the youngest black hole in our galaxy.
Normally, supernovae are fairly uniform: in an ideal world a perfect sphere of rapidly expanding gas centered around the original dying star. Most supernovae blow off the outer layers of a dying star and leave an extremely dense, rapidly spinning core of material called a neutron star behind.
W49B is different from the norm- instead of a fairly uniform sphere, the gas cloud appears to be flattened at either end, leaving a barrel shape, indicating that material at the poles of the star was blown away at much higher velocity than that at the equator, a formation known as a Jet. The cloud material itself is evidence that the supernova was unusual – instead of a uniform distribution of elements, iron was found in only half of the remnant cloud, while other elements like sulphur and silicon were spread throughout it. Going back to our ideal world supernovae, there would be a sphere of uniform element concentration.
As well as this non-uniform spread of material, W49B apparently lacks an X-ray source at its center. Neutron stars typically emit radiation in the X-ray spectrum, and some pulse in radiation intensity like a lighthouse depending on its orientation to our line of sight. So, something is sitting at the middle of this supernova remnant – but it isnt a neutron star.
These factors combined lead the team to suspect that there is something more exotic than a neutron star at the center of W49B. With no X-ray source to find and a supernova apparently driven by Jet formation, W49B overlaps with a class of phenomena only seen in other galaxies known as a Gamma Ray Burst, often associated with the formation of black holes.
This makes W49B pretty hot property in terms of scientific observation, as it might be indicative of black hole formation before our very eyes, as it were.
Image Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/MIT/L.Lopez et al; Infrared: Palomar; Radio: NSF/NRAO/VLA