Black holes are some of the most interesting phenomenon in the known universe, and the more we learn about them, the weirder and more mysterious they get. While black holes have been detected in the far reaches of space for some time now, astronomers have actually witnessed the birth of a black hole. That all changed when a team of astronomers used the Hubble Space Telescope to observe a star collapsing in on itself to become a superdense black hole.
This discovery began in 2004 when a team of researchers combing through data and images gathered by the Hubble telescope came across a star 20 million light years away which was burning a million times brighter than our own Sun. The team continued to observe the massive star N6946-BH1 for five years as it grew hotter and hotter before suddenly disappearing from wavelengths of visible light.
According to the team’s recent publication in the journal Solar and Stellar Astrophysics, new Hubble data shows that this likely means that the red supergiant star collapsed into itself and became a black hole:
We conclude that the transient is unlikely to be a SN impostor or stellar merger. The event is consistent with the ejection of the envelope of a red supergiant in a failed supernova and the late-time emission could be powered by fallback accretion onto a newly-formed black hole.
While this study is already being hailed as the first real-time (relatively speaking) observation of a forming black hole, the astronomers are quick to note in their publication that more research is needed before a definitive conclusion can be drawn about what they witnessed:
Future IR and X-ray observations are needed to confirm this interpretation of the fate for the star.
When matter reaches the event horizon in a black hole, it emits a certain frequency of x-ray radiation. Thus, X-ray data could help determine if the event was truly the birth of a black hole. If it is, scientists will be able to gather immense amounts of new data about what occurs before, during, and after such events.