UC Researcher Discusses Discovery of Galaxy’s Youngest Black Hole

Josh Shiode

By Danielle Savage NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory may have discovered the youngest black hole in the Milky Way galaxy, according to a UC Berkeley researcher. “We know of a couple of hundred or so black holes. The interesting thing about this one we think it’s the youngest one ever discovered,” said Josh Shiode, graduate student researcher at UC Berkeley and a NASA Earth and Space Sciences Fellow. Black holes are locations in space where gravity is so heavy they absorb whatever surrounds them. Nothing can avoid the gravity of a black hole, not even light. The object of interest, called W49B, is just 1000-years-old and only 26000 light-years away from Earth. “The tricky thing is we won’t ever know absolutely because the thing is so far away all we can do is look at where it is,” Shiode said. “We can look at the speed of everything. We could look for other evidence that matches up with our idea[s]. We can gather more evidence and we will. [There is] almost no other thing that could happen other than it being a black hole.” Most of the time when a massive star dies, the core of the star breaks down and produces a series of events that cause a supernova explosion. Most of these explosions are usually symmetrical, but W49B is different. “In this case, we know that this is the guts of a star after it’s torn itself apart,” he said. We know that this thing probably exploded one thousand years ago. If the explosion had caused a neutron star, we would have seen it.” Shiode explains the process. “When a massive star dies it produces a ton of light. Protons and electrons get so close together that they form a neutron star. Usually [with an explosion like this] we have a neutron star. [But] if it’s too much stuff at the center of a star, it turns into a black hole. Sometimes the stuff that could be exploding away falls right back, and that gives you a black hole.”
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