Scientists may have witnessed the moment a black hole was born for the first time in history.
Last June, a bright object lit up the night sky, disappearing almost instantly and puzzling scientists who tried to figure out what it was.
And now it appears the bright glow of light, which was spotted seven months ago, could have been a black hole at the moment of its creation.
As reported by the Independent, researchers have now decided that the mysterious source of light appears to have been the debris of a bright star circling round the edge of a black hole.
The event, which happened on June 16 last year, perplexed scientists and astronomers for months while they tried to find the cause of the flash of light.
Multiple theories were put forward, due to the outburst being so unexpected and like nothing scientists had seen before, until they settled on the black hole theory.
A statement provided by NASA states the event produced a ‘sudden explosion of light’ over three days, which was at least 10 times brighter than a typical supernova. The light then faded gradually over the next few months.
Nicknamed ‘the Cow’ after its official name AT2018cow, the phenomenon occurred near a star-forming galaxy which is located approximately 200 million lightyears away from Earth.
The Cow was first spotted by a NASA-funded telescope in Hawaii, called the Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System.
You can take a look at what scientists think happens when a black hole tears apart a white dwarf star below:
And now, after combining data from a range of different sources, scientists say the Cow was the exact moment a star collapsed into a compact object, forming a black hole or a neutron star.
In the statement provided by NASA, Raffaella Margutti, an astrophysicist at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, said:
We saw features in the Cow that we have never seen before in a transient, or rapidly changing, object. Our team used high-energy X-ray data to show that the Cow has characteristics similar to a compact body like a black hole or neutron star consuming material.
But based on what we saw in other wavelengths, we think this was a special case and that we may have observed — for the first time — the creation of a compact body in real time.
Finding out the cause of the bright glow was no easy feat though; as reported by the Independent, researchers couldn’t simply use the usual optical wavelengths. Instead, they had to point X-ray, radio waves and other instruments at the object.
This allowed scientists to study the Cow long after it had gone dark, meaning they got the desired answers in a matter of months rather than years.
Such a phenomenon has never before been observed, and so scientists are hoping they can examine it to understand in greater depth the physics behind the formation of black holes.
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A Broadcast Journalism Masters graduate who went on to achieve an NCTJ level 3 Diploma in Journalism, Lucy has done stints at ITV, BBC Inside Out and Key 103. While working as a journalist for UNILAD, Lucy has reported on breaking news stories while also writing features about mental health, cervical screening awareness, and Little Mix (who she is unapologetically obsessed with).