The formation of a black hole or neutron star has been recorded for the first time
The collapse of a star was caught through a telescope.
The mystery of The Cow: This past June, an extremely bright object in the sky created an astronomical mystery which was given the name AT2018cow (aka “The Cow”). The ATLAS survery’s Hawaii based telescopes spotted an bright spot about 200 million miles away that quickly appeared, then disappeared a few days later. Initially researchers thought it might be a supernova, but it was 10 to 100 times brighter than the typical supernova, and blinked out of the sky much faster.
Solving the puzzle: As presented at the 233rd meeting of the American Astronomical Society today, researchers from Northwestern University now believe that the telescopes picked up the moment a star collapsed and turned into either a black hole or a neutron star.
Why could we see this one? Typically when stars collapse into black holes, the large amount of material thrown out blocks Earth-based views of the event. But according to Northwestern University assistant professor Raffaella Margutti, this star had about 10 times less material spewed out, allowing astronomers to see inside. “A ‘lightbulb’ was sitting deep inside the ejecta of the explosion,” Margutti says.
How they figured this out: Rather than using telescopes that capture visible light, the traditional method of studying the death of stars, the team from Northwestern also used X-rays, hard X-rays (which are basically extra powerful x-rays), radio waves, and gamma rays to study The Cow. By using these additional methods, the researchers were able to continue to study the phenomenon even after the bright spot had dimmed. By finally having observations of the formation of a black hole or neutron star, astronomers will be able to better understand what happens right when the objects are created.
- Raffaella Margutti/Northwestern University