Astrophysics

Birth of a Black Hole?

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Science  20 Apr 2001:
Vol. 292, Issue 5516, pp. 401
DOI: 10.1126/science.292.5516.401a

Models suggest that black holes may be born in stellar explosions, and the very weak supernova 1997D may be a good candidate for finding evidence for black hole formation. The compact object produced in the center of 1997D should alter the supernova envelope sooner than for other supernovae because the explosion was so weak. An early analysis of the expanding supernova envelope indicated that the amount of nickel-56 (56Ni) ejected was smaller than in any previously observed type II supernova. Two possible explanations for this lack of 56Ni are that (i) a high-mass star exploded, and the ejected material recollapsed to form a black hole; and (ii) the explosion of a low-mass star did not produce much 56Ni, and the leftover material formed a neutron star.

Benetti et al. followed the decay of the luminosity of the expanding supernova envelope and found that it was due solely to radioactive decay after 300 days. If a neutron star had formed, it would have interacted with the supernova envelope by this time, so the authors infer that 1997D may instead have produced a black hole. The black hole should alter the supernova envelope after about 1000 days, and thus it will be vital to obtain additional observations of 1997D to detect the black hole's existence. — LR

Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc.322, 361 (2001).

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