Star becomes black hole without supernova explosion

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The uncertainty of science: Astronomers think they have identified a star that, rather than die and become a black hole in a supernova explosion, merely fizzled into a black hole.

Starting in 2009, one particular star in the Fireworks Galaxy, named N6946-BH1, began to brighten weakly. By 2015, it appeared to have winked out of existence. The astronomers aimed the Hubble Space Telescope at the star’s location to see if it was still there but merely dimmed. They also used the Spitzer Space Telescope to search for any infrared radiation emanating from the spot. That would have been a sign that the star was still present, but perhaps just hidden behind a dust cloud.

All the tests came up negative. The star was no longer there. By a careful process of elimination, the researchers eventually concluded that the star must have become a black hole.

There are a lot of uncertainties here. Nonetheless, astronomers have theorized that some stars could collapse into black holes with any explosions, and it appears they might have found their first example of that.



  • PeterF

    Could this be what is happening to Tabby’s star?

  • wayne

    Interesting thought.
    How do these two, compare in size? (I’m too lazy to look it up right now)

  • BSJ

    Just saw the most recent Supernova in the Fireworks Galaxy this last Saturday. In a 14″ dob we could even see some of the spiral arms… Not so much in a 12″.

  • PeterF: No, the two events are different. Tabby’s Star is not massive. It is not dying. It isn’t even supposed to be fading, based on all theories of stellar evolution, as presently understood that reasonably explain what we do know.

    The star that fizzled into a black hole actually did something that has been predicted by stellar evolution. The uncertainty is that it did it slightly differently than predicted, a difference that good scientists expect whenever they check their theories against reality.

  • Edward

    Robert wrote: “a difference that good scientists expect whenever they check their theories against reality.

    A difference that good scientists acknowledge when reality deviates from theory. Either the theory is incorrect (have they found any star that followed the theory?) or the theory needs a modification that accounts for this particular observation.

    A theory or model that fails to predict observed reality is wrong. (10 minutes, “Richard Feynman on Scientific Method”)

  • wayne

    Good stuff.

    -toss in this one as well–

    Richard Feynman
    Knowing versus Understanding (clip)

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