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This composite image shows a supernova within the galaxy M100 that may contain the youngest known black hole in our cosmic neighborhood. In this image, Chandra's X-rays are colored gold, while optical data from ESO's Very Large Telescope are shown in red, green, and blue, and infrared data from Spitzer are red. The location of the supernova, known as SN 1979C, is labeled. (Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO/D.Patnaude et al, Optical: ESO/VLT, Infrared: NASA/JPL/Caltech)
Astronomers using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory have found evidence of the youngest black hole known to exist in our cosmic neighborhood. The 30-year-old black hole provides a unique opportunity to watch this type of object develop from infancy.
The black hole could help scientists better understand how massive stars explode, which ones leave behind black holes or neutron stars, and the number of black holes in our galaxy and others.
The 30-year-old object is a remnant of SN 1979C, a supernova in the galaxy M100 approximately 50 million light years from Earth. Data from Chandra, NASA's Swift satellite, the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton and the German ROSAT observatory revealed a bright source of X-rays that has remained steady during observation from 1995 to 2007. This suggests the object is a black hole being fed either by material falling into it from the supernova or a binary companion.
"If our interpretation is correct, this is the nearest example where the birth of a black hole has been observed," said Daniel Patnaude of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass. who led the study.
The scientists think SN 1979C, first discovered by an amateur astronomer in 1979, formed when a star about 20 times more massive than the sun collapsed. Many new black holes in the distant universe previously have been detected in the form of gamma-ray bursts (GRBs).
However, SN 1979C is different because it is much closer and belongs to a class of supernovas unlikely to be associated with a GRB. Theory predicts most black holes in the universe should form when the core of a star collapses and a GRB is not produced.
"This may be the first time the common way of making a black hole has been observed," said co-author Abraham Loeb, also of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. "However, it is very difficult to detect this type of black hole birth because decades of X-ray observations are needed to make the case."
The idea of a black hole with an observed age of only about 30 years is consistent with recent theoretical work. In 2005, a theory was presented that the bright optical light of this supernova was powered by a jet from a black hole that was unable to penetrate the hydrogen envelope of the star to form a GRB. The results seen in the observations of SN 1979C fit this theory very well.
Although the evidence points to a newly formed black hole in SN 1979C, another intriguing possibility is that a young, rapidly spinning neutron star with a powerful wind of high energy particles could be responsible for the X-ray emission. This would make the object in SN 1979C the youngest and brightest example of such a "pulsar wind nebula" and the youngest known neutron star. The Crab pulsar, the best-known example of a bright pulsar wind nebula, is about 950 years old.
"It's very rewarding to see how the commitment of some of the most advanced telescopes in space, like Chandra, can help complete the story," said Jon Morse, head of the Astrophysics Division at NASA's Science Mission Directorate.
The results will appear in the New Astronomy journal in a paper by Patnaude, Loeb, and Christine Jones of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., manages the Chandra program for the agency's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory controls Chandra's science and flight operations from Cambridge.
Collect From Sciencedaily
Still image from movie displaying the computed horizons of large and small black holes immediately prior to their final merger and the aftermath. The oscillations induced by the small black hole falling into its companion are depicted. At the moment of merger, the large black hole’s radius increases with the absorption of the smaller mass. (Credit: Simulation by Carlos Lousto and Yosef Zlochower; visualization by Hans-Peter Bischof at the Center for Computational Relativity and Gravitation at Rochester Institute of Technology)
Scientists have simulated, for the first time, the merger of two black holes of vastly different sizes, with one mass 100 times larger than the other. This extreme mass ratio of 100:1 breaks a barrier in the fields of numerical relativity and gravitational wave astronomy.
Until now, the problem of simulating the merger of binary black holes with extreme size differences had remained an unexplored region of black-hole physics.
"Nature doesn't collide black holes of equal masses," says Carlos Lousto, associate professor of mathematical sciences at Rochester Institute of Technology and a member of the Center for Computational Relativity and Gravitation. "They have mass ratios of 1:3, 1:10, 1:100 or even 1:1 million. This puts us in a better situation for simulating realistic astrophysical scenarios and for predicting what observers should see and for telling them what to look for.
"Leaders in the field believed solving the 100:1 mass ratio problem would take five to 10 more years and significant advances in computational power. It was thought to be technically impossible."
"These simulations were made possible by advances both in the scaling and performance of relativity computer codes on thousands of processors, and advances in our understanding of how gauge conditions can be modified to self-adapt to the vastly different scales in the problem," adds Yosef Zlochower, assistant professor of mathematical sciences and a member of the center.
A paper announcing Lousto and Zlochower's findings was submitted for publication in Physical Review Letters.
The only prior simulation describing an extreme merger of black holes focused on a scenario involving a 1:10 mass ratio. Those techniques could not be expanded to a bigger scale, Lousto explained. To handle the larger mass ratios, he and Zlochower developed numerical and analytical techniques based on the moving puncture approach -- a breakthrough, created with Manuela Campanelli, director of the Center for Computational Relativity and Gravitation, that led to one of the first simulations of black holes on supercomputers in 2005.
The flexible techniques Lousto and Zlochower advanced for this scenario also translate to spinning binary black holes and for cases involving smaller mass ratios. These methods give the scientists ways to explore mass ratio limits and for modeling observational effects.
Lousto and Zlochower used resources at the Texas Advanced Computer Center, home to the Ranger supercomputer, to process the massive computations. The computer, which has 70,000 processors, took nearly three months to complete the simulation describing the most extreme-mass-ratio merger of black holes to date.
"Their work is pushing the limit of what we can do today," Campanelli says. "Now we have the tools to deal with a new system."
Simulations like Lousto and Zlochower's will help observational astronomers detect mergers of black holes with large size differentials using the future Advanced LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory) and the space probe LISA (Laser Interferometer Space Antenna). Simulations of black-hole mergers provide blueprints or templates for observational scientists attempting to discern signatures of massive collisions. Observing and measuring gravitational waves created when black holes coalesce could confirm a key prediction of Einstein's general theory of relativity.
Collect From Sciencedaily