Feeds

Swift catches birth of black hole on camera

Living up to its name

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Intelligent flash storage arrays

Astronomers working on the Swift mission have photographed a gamma ray burst they think is likely to be the formation of a new black hole, 2.2bn light-years away. There was a flash of X-Rays just moments after the burst, which itself was very short-lived, followed by an optical afterglow. Astronomers think the explosion was caused by the merging of two neutron stars.

The Swift satellite is in orbit to investigate gamma-ray-bursts, the most violent, and mysterious explosions in the universe. It has been designed to respond rapidly to detection of gamma rays - within 20-70 seconds. This turn of speed is vital as the whole explosion can be over in seconds.

The satellite detected the gamma rays shortly after midnight, east coast time, on Monday this week, Space.com reports. Swift swung the rest of its sensors to face the explosion within 50 seconds, and just caught an X-Ray afterglow. Astronomers at larger, earth based observatories then went looking for the after-glow of the explosion in visible light.

This sequence, a short lived gamma ray burst followed by a short-lived X-ray burst and optical afterglow ,is the theoretical trademark of a merger of two neutron stars. But until now, the equipment available to researchers was not responsive enough or sensitive enough to do anything but detect the initial burst.

In this case, two neutron stars would have approached each other very gradually. "A fraction of a second before contact, the lower mass neutron star is disrupted and forms a neutrino driven accretion disk around the higher mass neutron star," Steinn Sigurdsson, a Penn State University researcher, told Space.com. "It implodes under the weight and forms a maximally spinning low-mass black hole."

At some point after its formation, the black hole emits a flare of superheated gases, travelling at relativistic speeds. This is when the gamma ray burst is created. ®

Related stories

Astronomers spy hot spots on neutron stars
Swift observatory sends back stunning test shot
Swift blasts off on dying star mission

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

More from The Register

next story
SECRET U.S. 'SPACE WARPLANE' set to return from SPY MISSION
Robot minishuttle X-37B returns after almost 2 years in orbit
LOHAN crash lands on CNN
Overflies Die Welt en route to lively US news vid
You can crunch it all you like, but the answer is NOT always in the data
Hear that, 'data journalists'? Our analytics prof holds forth
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
No sail: NASA spikes Sunjammer
'Solar sail' demonstrator project binned
Carry On Cosmonaut: Willful Child is a poor taste Star Trek parody
Cringeworthy, crude and crass jokes abound in Steven Erikson’s sci-fi debut
Origins of SEXUAL INTERCOURSE fished out of SCOTTISH LAKE
Fossil find proves it first happened 385 million years ago
America's super-secret X-37B plane returns to Earth after nearly TWO YEARS aloft
674 days in space for US Air Force's mystery orbital vehicle
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.