(Photo : X-ray: NASA/CXC/MIT/L.Lopez et al.; Infrared: Palomar; Radio: NSF/NRAO/VLA)
How young is young? Most of our answers would be double-digit ages, but not in the cosmic scheme of things where the universe is approaching 14 billion years old. NASA scientists are now cautiously stating that they might have found the youngest black hole we know of in our galaxy, and it's only 1,000 years old.
The evidence for a black hole, which is believed to the result of supernova W49B, is not rock solid, but if true, gives scientists an opportunity to study a rather rare and unique phenomenon.
"It's a bit circumstantial, but we have intriguing evidence the W49B supernova also created a black hole," said study co-author Daniel Castro from MIT. "If that is the case, we have a rare opportunity to study a supernova responsible for creating a young black hole."
The theory that this young black hole exists a mere 26,000 light-years away relies on the absence of a neutron star. Supernova W49B is the result of its parent star dying, and when stars die, they usually leave behind an incredibly dense core known as a neutron star. However, when the astronomers poured over data from NASA's Chandra X-Ray Observatory, they found no evidence of a neutron star, which suggests, but does not prove, that a black hole exists. That's not all, however, that the astronomers found unusual with this particular scenario - it seems the star exploded in a strange, asymmetrical fashion that lends itself to all kinds of speculation
While most stars explode in a blaze of symmetry, the star that created supernova W49B seems to have ejected matter at its poles at a much faster rate than the rest of it.
"In addition to its unusual signature of elements, W49B also is much more elongated and elliptical than most other remnants," said another study co-author Enrico Ramirez-Ruiz from UC Santa Cruz. "This is seen in X-rays and several other wavelengths and points to an unusual demise for this star."
The black hole still has a ways to go before it is confirmed. Gamma-ray bursts are usually associated with the birth of a new black hole, and the Chandra data has no indication of any such bursts.
You can read the full study published in The Astrophysical Journal.