Black holes are the most mysterious phenomena in the universe. They display such unimaginable gravitational power that nothing – even light – can escape. But in a “spectacular” scientific breakthrough, a black hole’s birth in a distant dwarf galaxy has been captured for the first time.
Telescopes were trained on the phenomenon last year, which was 100 times brighter than a supernova.
And an international team of scientists believe the object called AT2018cow and dubbed “The Cow”, is the birth of a black hole, around which an entire galaxy orbits
The Cow’s power is such it was seen to spew matter at a tenth of the speed of light.
The data, made by the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) observations, will be confirmed in March in what will potentially be the most significant scientific announcements the year.
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The phenomena is similar to a supernova, when a dying star results in the formation of a black hole or neutron star.
The theory was backed by an international team of after combining X-ray and radiowave data.
“We managed to get very high-quality data at the very high resolutions necessary to observe the black hole’s shadow, if it’s really there,” said Sera Markoff, a University of Amsterdam professor, who co-leads the EHT’s Multiwavelength Working Group.
Assistant Professor Dr Raffaella Margutti, of Northwestern University, said: “We thought it must be a supernova.
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“But what we observed challenged our current notions of stellar death.”
“We think that “The Cow” is the formation of an accreting black hole or neutron star.
“We know from theory that black holes and neutron stars form when a star dies, but we’ve never seen them right after they are born. Never.”
The mysterious space object had spent most of its power within a fortnight – a incredibly short period in a cosmological context.
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Professor Margutti added: “We knew right away that this source went from inactive to peak luminosity within just a few days.
“That was enough to get everybody excited because it was so unusual and, by astronomical standards, it was very close by.”
The Cow’s chemical composition was calculated to contain helium and hydrogen.
Astronomers used to studied stellar deaths via visible light.
But this study broke new ground by examining the black hole birth with hard X-rays – ten times more powerful than normal radiation.
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This allowed the astronomers to study the anomaly long after its initial brightness ebbed.
And the team was able to peer get a glimpse of the object’s “central engine” because the dying star was surrounded by a relatively small amount of debris.
The scientists also benefited from the star’s relative closeness to Earth.
Professor Margutti said: “Two hundred million light years is close for us, by the way.
“This is the closest transient object of this kind that we have ever found.”
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