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Astronomers witness apparent birth of a black hole

Analysis of the X-rays suggests the supernova SN 1979C is a black hole in the making, and that it is consuming gassy remnants of either an initial supernova or perhaps a nearby star, said researchers while announcing their discovery Monday at NASA headquarters

Space telescopes have detected a young black hole formed from a supernova, or an exploding star, 30 years ago, a team of U.S. and European astronomers reported on Monday.

According to online tabloid reports, the explosion of the star in a nearby galaxy was first observed by an amateur stargazer in 1979, but it took decades of observation to confirm it has become a black hole.

Death of a star
The death of the star reportedly took place in the relatively nearby M100 galaxy some 50 million miles from Earth, according to The Associated Press.

UK’s Telegraph is reporting that the supernova, named SN 1979C, looked brighter for a brief time than all the billions of other stars in the same galaxy put together.

The death of the star reportedly took place in the relatively nearby M100 galaxy some 50 million miles from Earth, according to The Associated Press.

Telescopes capture birth of black hole
Afterward, three telescopes in space -- NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton, and the German ROSAT observatory and Germany's ROSAT -- detected a bright source of X-rays from the same spot.

Analysis of the X-rays suggests the supernova SN 1979C is a black hole in the making, and that it is consuming gassy remnants of either an initial supernova or perhaps a nearby star, said researchers while announcing their discovery Monday at NASA headquarters.

"If our interpretation is correct, this is the nearest example where the birth of a black hole has been observed," ABC News reported Daniel Patnaude of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Massachusetts, who helped lead the study, as saying in a statement.

Astronomers watching it growing
The scientists believe the star which exploded and resulted in the black hole was may be 20 times bigger than our Sun, and the baby black hole created by it is about five times more massive than our Sun.

"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," said Kimberly Weaver, an astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. "Learning about black holes has been like solving a puzzle, and this will help us get closer to a full understanding."

Youngest black hole has sucked in massive matter
Since the explosion of the star, the new-born black hole has sucked massive surrounding material into its core, which could be about the equivalent of the Earth in mass.

"This is certainly eating as much as it can," AP quoted Patnaude as saying. "This is working as hard as it can to gobble up that material, exactly like a teenager or a toddler."

As of the newly found black hole’s appetite, NASA astrophysicist Kimberly Weaver said: "It's like the planet eater in 'Star Trek,'" reported the AP.

The research team hopes their discovery will provide clues about the formation of the celestial objects and the death of stars.

"This is the first time we've been able to observe what certainly appears to be a black hole form and grow," said Patnaude.

"It makes sense for us to think of the universe as existing now as it always has and always will because that's what we experience," he added. "But the last 20 years of study have shown that, in fact, the universe changes every single day in significant ways, and this apparent black hole is a dramatic example of that."

About the supernova and the new black hole
In 1979, the amateur astronomer Gus Johnson of Maryland spotted the supernova at the edge of a galaxy called M100. Since then the astronomers have been looking at it.

Light and X-rays from the blast of the star have taken 50 million years to arrive on Earth at the speed of light--186,000 miles per second, or about 10 trillion km per year.

According to Patnaude, the amount of matter the new black hole is currently sucking is now small, but it will increase as the mass of the black hole increases. However, it will take another million years to double in size.