Where is the Nearest Black Hole

Star’s Dying Gasp May Signal Black Hole’s Birth

Article Updated: 23 Dec , 2015


A distinctive flash of light emanating from a dying star may make it possible for astronomers to watch a black hole being born, according to new research.

This burst of light, which might last three to 10 days, could be visible in optical light and also in infrared, which shows the heat signature of cosmic objects. While not as bright as a supernova — an exploding star — this signal could occur somewhere in the sky as often as once a year, according to simulations performed at the California Institute of Technology.

“That flash is going to be very bright, and it gives us the best chance for actually observing that this event occurred,” stated Caltech postdoctoral scholar Tony Piro, who led the research that is published in Astrophysical Journal Letters. “This is what you really want to look for.”

A big star essentially turns into a black hole when it falls into itself due to its large mass. The collapse shoots out protons and electrons from the core, creating neutrons and temporarily turning the core into a neutron star (a really, really dense object). This process also makes up neutrinos, which are infinitesimal but also extremely fast, moving nearly as fast as light does and bleeding the star of energy.

Combining observations done with ESO's Very Large Telescope and NASA's Chandra X-ray telescope, astronomers have uncovered the most powerful pair of jets ever seen from a stellar black hole. The black hole blows a huge bubble of hot gas, 1,000 light-years across or twice as large and tens of times more powerful than the other such microquasars. The stellar black hole belongs to a binary system as pictured in this artist's impression.  Credit: ESO/L. Calçada

Combining observations done with ESO’s Very Large Telescope and NASA’s Chandra X-ray telescope, astronomers have uncovered the most powerful pair of jets ever seen from a stellar black hole. The black hole blows a huge bubble of hot gas, 1,000 light-years across or twice as large and tens of times more powerful than the other such microquasars. The stellar black hole belongs to a binary system as pictured in this artist’s impression. Credit: ESO/L. Calçada

A 1980 paper, CalTech stated, showed that “this rapid loss of mass means that the gravitational strength of the dying star’s core would abruptly drop.” Hydrogen-filled layers at the top of the star would then fall outward and create a shock wave moving at more than two million miles an hour.

More recently, astronomers at the University of California, Santa Cruz discovered that the shock wave’s friction against the gas would heat up the plasma and make it glow, potentially for as long as a year. But that would be very faint from Earth-borne telescopes.

This is where the new CalTech research comes in. The university is already involved in black hole research, including the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR). You can check out a video about NuSTAR below.

Piro’s simulations focus on when shock waves hit the surface of the star. It’s this process that would produce a burst of light, perhaps 10 to 100 times brighter than the other glow that astronomers foresaw.

The next step will be trying to observe these events as soon as they happen. Caltech advertised several survey possibilities related to its research: the Palomar Transient Factory, the  intermediate Palomar Transient Factory that started work in February and the even more advanced Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF) that  is expected to start up in 2015.

Of course, it’s quite possible that other telescopes on the ground or orbit could work to confirm this signal.

Source: California Institute of Technology

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28 Responses

  1. "Me" says:

    Top pic looks just like my avatar. There’s a excellent reason for it. Stars makes everything in the universe along w/black Holes. From optical light to the infrared x-rays. To me it is they are all the most awesome things in our universe. Those black-hole monsters all make our normal physics ‘outside themselves’ be so overwhelmingly unbelievable. The singularity itself must be so incredible to even fathom to conceive its reality(s). With in 10 months or so I will ‘fully retire’ from R&D/QC/etc . In the time frame of 12/2013 & no later than mid-04/2014. I will always keep connected w/the science of stars. I just cannot fully be away. Being a sub-contractor over the last 15yrs. has been worth the effort/bother. Working for yourself has its rewards. But downsizing 1/2 of your work load feels so weird. The good people you’ve hired & have known personally is like loosing a part of yourself. If it wasn’t for the people working for & with me. I’d of shut down in 2010/’11. Thankfully, they all have work lined up for themselves after vacation season. Now it is into the ‘unknown sciences’ for me. Technology will catch up soon enough to get a grip of the unknown realities out there. … :-)… .

    • Olaf2 says:

      What has “contractor”, “downsizing”, “hired”, “vacation”, “Christmas” to do with this article?

      • "Me" says:

        ???… …know how to interpret? Clue?

      • DPHandfield says:

        I’ve seen the “Dumb and Dumber” movie. You will make an excellent candidate for the “Dumbest” movie. He stated what he has been doing for many years with the ‘physical hands on’ construction of Satellite instruments. It is obvious he started his own business fifteen years ago after working for other companies. He is retiring soon. Your trying to be a wise ass is very evident. What a very wise and informative post by you.

      • "Me" says:

        lol..lol..lol. What a great come back! Thanks for the defense by the way :-)… . When all is said & done. The people who disapprove of other people(s) thoughts in a post(other than being vulgar & threatening) are very selfish. They keep harping on this being an astronomy site. No s$#t?!?..lol. They refuse to take notice of the things that need to be investigated properly. They are ‘not’ impossible at all. Soon I will be able to do just that after I retire ‘fully’ from R&D/QC satellite instrument/parts fabrications. In less than 1 yr.. It is full research steam ahead w/the unknowns.

        You seem to have a positive clue. I will give you my true email if you choose to accept it :-)… . I know a way :-)… ..take care always.

      • newSteveZodiac says:

        Cool! let’s swap cake recipes!

      • "Me" says:

        Sorry? No your not. Nice try though. ..1st of all. Where did you read I am ‘now’ retired? I’m NOT, …yet. Interpret & or read correctly. ..2nd of all. Astrophysics? Been there done that. ..3rd of all. I started expressing the unknowns a few weeks ago. You know, like, the 5% UFO sightings by gov’nr’s, police, Air Force around nuke, firemen, & the rest of the many good people in various standings. Why isn’t ‘mortals’ like yourself looking into this rather obvious, ‘somethings going on field’? Scared of chastisement? Being ostracize? Even fired? Wussies!

        Here in U.T was a “Stonehenge’ article. They all say its an astrophysics site. Then, what does “Stonehenge” have to do w/astrophysics? NADDA! But yet “Stonehenge” was written here in a U.T. Good for U.T. It wasn’t until I brought up the ‘unknowns’ a few weeks back did I get spanked. Well, I am spanking back!…lol. Only a few have the nuts to actually talk about those 5%. They themselves have not ‘yet’ experience ANYTHING of the sort. But yet judge others saying disrespectful accusations. No No, I will NOT stand by & have these “so called” professional astrobuttheads get away w/it. They who have NOT been there done that, or experienced it, & etc’s…., then shut the &^%$ up & look into it! Theres more but I said enough for now. …take care.

      • Olaf2 says:

        You do realize that this is not a typical Youtube comments section where can bash people, create up personal theories and create off-topic posts?

      • "Me" says:

        YOUTUBE? What does youtube got/have/etc to do w/it? Read above what you said. Where can bash people? huh? Where? You mean where I am (ME) bashing people? Or ‘where ‘you’ can bash people?

        Lets just say I know why you all(most)say what your’ve been saying. Oh ya, ..I started of explaining about the black holes then started expressing my future doing & happenings. What was wrong w/that Olaf2? Are you the boss in here? Are you U.T. police? U.T. brought up “StoneHenge”. Ok then big boy Olaf2. What did/does Stonehenge have to do w/astrophysics? Well big boy. WHAT?! What, no black holes. stars, galaxy’s expressed? Grow up!

      • lcrowell says:

        “Me” is the latest troll on this site. Given that Me and DP Handfield exhibit almost identical language usage I suspect these two may in fact be the same person, or friends with similar minds. This language usage is a stream of disconnected nonsense statements. This suggest that Me is not involved with R&D or satellites; the man simply makes no sense.

        This site has been here before. Remember the electric/plasma universe mob back around 2008-9 on this site?


      • Olaf2 says:

        I completely agree.

      • "Me" says:

        There are millions of I.P. address connected in collages/schools. They use connections through IP/internet provider, IP/internet protocols. IP’s have many different adaptations. Through this collage many use “ME”. Brian.

      • DPHandfield says:

        Your very typical and unoriginal. Troll. That is very old. Can you come up with anything of your own accord? I doubt that very much. I have suggested “ME” is correct and your implying I am hitched at the hips with “ME”. He abbreviates and jumps to other formats. I do not. I can understand why he does that. Also he has other people using his name.
        . Your rude, your ego is matched by your arrogance as well. You ignore what could be huge to science. Once again, can you disprove them? Your a very stubborn person only wanting the content you want. Sorry for your bad luck. Universe Today has an assortment of articles. It is not always astrophysics. For the third time and final time. GROW UP!

      • IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE says:

        You may be right: both individuals share the same I.P. address (Fairhaven, Massachusetts), but have different e-mail addresses.

      • "Me" says:


      • "Me" says:

        Sorry. Read reply to Olaf2. There are many whom use “ME” through many computers at this collage. Brian.

      • Jody Roberts says:

        I envy you, Sir, in the good way. I would build large telescopes from aesthetically attractive metals, had I the time. Oh, to have a look in your shop / tinkering space! May the time that is now yours be even more productive than that which was not. Congratulations

      • "Me" says:

        Why TY Jody for your kind words & outlook. Took me 25 yrs to realize you must work for yourself to apply your own hows, ways, whys & values. I do not know your age. But go ahead, GO FOR IT!
        You must have a family. That is the #1 interference for going on your own. But in Gods heart, family is #1. Family is the key to any society’s harmony.

        Listen to me ok? Everyday you gather things for your t-scope(s). You are 1 day closer to obtaining your goal(s). It will sooth peace in your inner you. Sounds petty, but it is so true. I did it, others have. & so can YOU. Baby steps turn into completion someday. Yes, it is slow & aggravating at times. It is those 1st baby steps that accumulate day by day, week by week, month by month, & year by year. ………God Bless you Jody & take care always…”ME”. PS: you can be “ME” & others===>take those 1st steps, ..ok? :-)… .

      • DPHandfield says:

        Sorry I am late in responding. Yes that sounds good. I’ll be in touch asap.

      • Olaf2 says:


        What has “contractor”, “downsizing”, “hired”, “vacation”, “Christmas”, “starting your own business” to do with this article?

      • DPHandfield says:

        Again? Need Braille?

  2. lcrowell says:

    The rapid loss of energy from neutrinos might be facilitated by other particles. The superstring SO(32) is a huge matrix that has a symmetric part that is the Ricci curvature of supergravity, an antisymmetric part that is gauge fields and the trace defines scalar fields, such as the axion and dilaton. The dilaton is interesting for it connects QCD physics with gravity. The interior of this star will involve that neutron star core, or quark-gluon core, in a quantum phase transition to the black hole state. This could produce lots of axions.

    The axion though is a tough particle to detect. It is extremely light, on the order of 10^{-3}ev, and very weakly coupled to matter. These are similar to reasons the neutrino is hard to detect. It might be however that detailed understanding of how black holes collapse in this relatively non-explosive fashion might be a key into some problems in the foundation of physics.


  3. Iduehe Udom says:

    this is all about science. …. nice observation,…… I will love to get more on this experience on the webpage of University of Nigeria…. http://edu.unn.edu.ng

  4. Wow just amazes me how almost everyday our understanding of the universe changes..amazing time to be alive!!

  5. Ignoramus1 says:

    A model of a “hypothetical” press release or on how to get attention with nothing new.

    • "Me" says:

      Great name! Damn, why didn’t I think of that 1?! Maybe Ignoramus2? Nah, never mind,….you win :-)… . Take care.

  6. Reid Barnes says:

    In this article: “A big star essentially turns into a black hole when it falls into itself due to its large mass.” Is this established science or still hypothesis? How can it be either, really, if the theory on which it is claimed is founded on self-contradicting non-Euclidean geometry? See the Facebook Note, The Problem With Non-Euclidean Geometry… https://www.facebook.com/notes/reid-barnes/the-problem-with-non-euclidean-geometry-or-the-lite-triangle-axiom-part-two/541137095938869

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