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NASA Space Science

NASA Announces Discovery of 30-Year-Old Black Hole 195

Posted by Soulskill
from the give-or-take-50-million-years dept.
broknstrngz tips news of an announcement today from NASA about the discovery of a black hole in the M100 galaxy, roughly 50 million light-years from Earth. The discovery is notable because, if confirmed, it's now the youngest known black hole, born from the remains of a supernova we observed in 1979. Bad Astronomer Phil Plait explains why scientists think it collapsed to a black hole, rather than a neutron star: "The way a neutron star emits X-rays is different than that of a black hole. As a neutron star cools, the X-ray emission will fade. However, a black hole blasts out X-rays as material falls in; that stuff forms a flat disk, called an accretion disk, around the black hole. As this matter falls onto the newly created black hole, it gets heated to unimaginable temperatures — millions of degrees — and blasts out X-rays. In that case, the X-rays emitted would be steady over time. What astronomers have found is that the X-rays from SN1979c have been steady in brightness over observations from 1995 – 2007. This is very strong evidence that the star’s core did indeed collapse into a black hole." He also warns that we're not certain quite yet, and we'll have to keep our eye on it to make sure it's not a pulsar.
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NASA Announces Discovery of 30-Year-Old Black Hole

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  • by Weaselmancer (533834) on Monday November 15, 2010 @07:05PM (#34237280)

    He also warns that... we're not certain... quite yet, and... we'll have to keep... our eye on it to... make sure it's not a... pulsar.

  • by tylersoze (789256) on Monday November 15, 2010 @07:05PM (#34237282)

    To all the inevitable pedantic responses about it not "really" happening 30 years old, I'll be even more pedantic. :) Relativity of Simultaneity, look it up. It's absolutely meaningless to talk of the temporal ordering of space-like separated events. In some suitable reference frame, it "really" did happen 30 years ago.

    • by blueg3 (192743)

      Well, it would figure that most of the comments on Slashdot would be criticizing TFA and at the same time getting relativity wrong by reasoning as if there is some absolute clock.

      • Relate to this! (Score:3, Informative)

        by Zero__Kelvin (151819)
        I don't know much about the Universe, but I am certain about one thing: There isn't a person alive who understands it . The people who feel a sense of superiority by deluding themselves into think they do are among some of this Space-Time's most strikingly hilarious examples of irony.
        • by Chris Burke (6130)

          I feel superior because I know enough about it to know I don't understand it. How's that work for your irony meter? :)

          • "I feel superior because I know enough about it to know I don't understand it. How's that work for your irony meter? :)"

            I don't find it ironic at all. Our knowledge is greater for that very reason. The fact that you equate greater knowledge with superiority as a human being might be ironic in most places, but it is to be expected on Slashdot. ;-)br%

        • by blueg3 (192743)

          Nobody who really understands science thinks they understand the Universe, but they know that they understand it in a measurably better way than others.

          • They don't know any such thing. Most likely, they understand and can communicate Maya [wikipedia.org] in a mutually delusional way (The distinction between consciousness and physical matter, between mind and body (refer bodymind), is the result of an unenlightened perspective.)
    • Since you're splitting hairs, I will as well. You're taking the Newtonian physics point of view. General relativity would dictate that, relative to our reference frame, the black hole is, in fact, 30 years old. If, for example, aliens were to build a wormhole at that star at the current time (from our point of view) 30 years after the black hole was created, and then traveled here carrying the other end of the wormhole at the speed of light, and it were possible for us to traverse this wormhole, we'd arrive
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Ksevio (865461)
      Obviously it's not 30 years old if we observed its creation in 1979, that would make it 31.
    • Basically, we can only calculate based on our own local observations and infer "real time" in theory - at best. However, I'm perfectly fine with saying it happened 50 millions some odd years ago rather than the delay of an event propagating through space toward us as the frame of reference.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by noidentity (188756)
      Why not sidestep all that and say that they discovered that they can currently see images of a 30-year-old black hole? Whether it's happening live or is a stream from millions of years ago is irrelevant for their study.
    • by tylersoze (789256)

      More fun with simultaneity: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andromeda_paradox [wikipedia.org]

    • by bcrowell (177657) on Monday November 15, 2010 @07:55PM (#34237702) Homepage

      To all the inevitable pedantic responses about it not "really" happening 30 years old, I'll be even more pedantic. :) Relativity of Simultaneity, look it up. It's absolutely meaningless to talk of the temporal ordering of space-like separated events. In some suitable reference frame, it "really" did happen 30 years ago.

      You've got that somewhat garbled. The relevant events would be (A) a photon is emitted from the star, and (B) that photon arrives here on earth. The relationship between A and B is lightlike, not spacelike. Since they are lightlike relative to one another, they do have a well-defined temporal ordering; there is no frame of reference in which B preceded A, or in which A and B are simultaneous. Your final sentence, however, is correct.

      • by notaspy (457709)

        "there is no frame of reference in which B preceded A, or in which A and B are simultaneous."

        From the photon's point of view they are simultaneous.

    • So, instead you turned all the comments to pedantic responses about relativity of simultaneity.

      See what you did?
  • Accretion DIsks ? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mbone (558574) on Monday November 15, 2010 @07:12PM (#34237348)

    Neutron Stars can have accretion disks too. (LSI 31 303 is supposed to have one, for example.)

    So I am not sure I see why that is determinative. Off to read the article.

    • > Neutron Stars can have accretion disks too.

      Yes, but I don't think that they would emit large amounts of X-rays.

      • by mbone (558574)

        The press release didn't say that, but that it was the decay with time that was determinative. I don't see it, but I suspect that there are some missing pieces in the paper, but not the press release, that fill in the gaps.

  • Bad Astronomy? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by starless (60879)

    I'm not sure the Bad Astronomer understands this properly... an accretion disk could certainly form around a neutron star as well...

    • an accretion disk could certainly form around a neutron star as well...

      I feel as if yo mamma jokes are imminent...

    • ...an accretion disk could certainly form around a neutron star as well...

      Phil Plait didn't say it couldn't. Link [discovermagazine.com]

    • Re:Bad Astronomy? (Score:4, Informative)

      by dmartin (235398) on Tuesday November 16, 2010 @03:41AM (#34239850)

      It is correct to say that an accretion disk can form around a neutron star as well.

      The distinguishing characteristic is that a neutron star bigger than its Schwarzschild radius. Not just a little bit bigger, but at least 11% bigger [see the Buchdahl-Bondi limit; this a theoretical limit for any perfect fluid spheres -- actual neutron stars don't come close to saturating that bound]. This means that the accretion of charged particles that is spiraling inward will eventually hit the surface, stopping the charged particles very rapidly. The radiation from suddenly stopping charged particles (Bremsstrahlung) is fairly distinctive, and is not seen here.

      By contrast, an accretion disk around a black hole loses energy and eventually passes through the horizon. There is no sudden breaking and hence no Bremsstrahlung radiation It is the accretion disk and the lack of Bremsstrahlung that convinces us that the most likely candidate is a black hole.

      [The reason the size limit was important is that as you get close to the horizon, redshifting makes things harder to see anyway. The point of the Buchdahl-Bondi theorem is that any perfect fluid sphere has to be about 11% bigger than the size of a black hole of equivalent mass. This limits the total redshift due to the object to a modest factor of 2, ensuring for a large class of matter (including neutron stars and all known matter to date) that the collision with the surface if it existed would be visible. This does not prevent unknown matter with exotic properties having s surface that is beyond the event horizon but close enough in the we would not see the Bremsstrahlung radition, but it is very difficult to construct "reasonable" solutions.]

  • Naw.... (Score:3, Funny)

    by The Living Fractal (162153) <{banantarr} {at} {hotmail.com}> on Monday November 15, 2010 @07:34PM (#34237522) Homepage
    I know of a younger one. It actually just happened. Sorry though, the light from the supernova won't be here for 50,000,000 years. Go ahead, prove me wrong! ;p
  • Let's just leave it as "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away..." and trust that what we can "see" now is how it looked when it was/is 30 years old.
  • by Seismologist (617169) on Monday November 15, 2010 @10:51PM (#34238826)

    As this matter falls onto the newly created black hole, it gets heated to unimaginable temperatures — millions of degrees— and blasts out X-rays

    Translation: The temperature is so high, it is somehow unimaginable using numbers. But since you are reading on, let me just pull a totally random number out of my ass and say a million degrees... wait no.. make it a millions, as in more than 1 million, which makes my claim sound sorta vague and not precise but makes it nevertheless appear I know what I'm talking about. That should cover the unimaginable bit of it. Besides, its not like you're going to check anyways so fuck it, lets and some em dashes for extra emphasis for no other reason other than because its really "HOT". I mean wow, can you imagine a place this hot? I'm just siting here in my office, thinking to myself, geeze this black hole stuff is not the usual environment I'm used to, most likely because I would have been obliterated and spit out as really "HOT" x-rays... there, you see where I'm coming from? HOT!

  • It's just a sigsegv in the physics processing engine. How long will it take for the core dump to arrive so we can analyze it and fix the code? We probably just need to increase SINGLEPOINT_MAX_MASS from a long to an unsigned long long...

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