W49B

This image shows a false color photo of the blazing clouds around the new black hole. Green and blue are X-rays, optical light is shown in yellow, and radio images of the area are in magenta.

Matter matters

When scientists use the data to look at which elements were blown from the exploding star at the heart of the cloud, you see iron (purple) and silicon (blue) aren't evenly spread. It means this big bang was wonky.

Light, not blackness

This optical image of the supernova cloud is perhaps more what you would imaging a super-hot exploding star would create--something that looks like flames. The truth of an explosion like this is that it releases fantastic amounts of energy that are actually not visible to your eye because your eyes can't see infra red or X-rays.

Really big black holes

Though a new, young, and presumably hungry black hole in our galaxy sounds scary, W49B's one is a bit small. This other image from the Chandra telescope shows an elliptical galaxy in the center of a cluster of galaxies called PKS 0745-19, about 1.3 billion light years away. Its home to what's thought to be one of the biggest black holes in the universe--somewhere above 10 billion times the mass of our sun.

Neutron stars

To prove Chandra isn't just a one-trick wonder, here's another amazing image from the telescope. It's of jets of matter flying out of the Vela Pulsar at near light speed, about 1,000 light years away. It's a neutron star, which is formed by a different type of collapse of a massive star to black holes. It's only 12 miles across, and yet spins over 11 times every second--faster than a helicopter blade. If your mind isn't boggling at that, it should be.

Chandra

Here's the crew of Space Shuttle flight STS-93, which flew July 1999, holding a scale model of the Chandra telescope they launched. The real thing is about 45 feet long and 65 feet across its solar panels--and doesn't look like a typical telescope due to the strange science that governs how an X-ray telescope works.

NASA's Latest Discovery, The Galaxy's Youngest Black Hole, Looks Like A Technicolor Dreamscape

Hey world, meet W49B and its many stunning wonders.

Brand-new info from NASA's powerful Chandra X-ray Observatory, a space telescope whizzing above your head in Earth orbit, has revealed what may be the most recent black hole that our Milky Way galaxy has made. The data also suggest that it was made in no normal supernova explosion. And best of all the images from Chandra are absolutely stunning.

Black holes are made when a massive star runs out of "fuel" for its fires, and then its own mass causes it to collapse to a smaller, denser thing. Lots of energy (and other stuff) is blown away in the resulting explosion, and sometimes a black hole is left in the middle--a dead star that's so fantastically dense even light can't escape its gravity.

Chandra's images aren't of the back hole itself--for, er, obvious reasons--but instead they show the glowing halo of matter and radiation that was thrown out when the star at the center exploded in a supernova. Scientists are particularly thrilled by W49B because it shows that when the star exploded it spewed material out along its poles at mind-boggling speed, which is a pretty rare thing to find because typically these big booms are more symmetrical. It's the first find of its kind in our own galaxy. W49B now glows beautifully in the visible range, and is an amazing picture in the X-ray spectrum. This data shows the exploding star threw iron-rich star stuff in one direction, while sulfur and silicon were more evenly blown around.

Why's this exciting? First off, because the star's unusual explosion allows astrophysicists to test and refine the models they have for the way stars work--W49B has confirmed many a theory. Secondly it's the sort of amazing science accompanied by beautiful images that help to show lawmakers why they need to invest in space and scientific innovation, and also to excite students about the subject.

And finally, don't panic! We aren't in any danger of being sucked away. W49B is about a thousand years old, as seen from the point of view of Earth, and its black hole is about 26,000 light years away (for context, the Earth is about 8 light minutes from the Sun). Space, you see, is big. Very big. And beautiful.

Chat about this news with Kit Eaton on Twitter and Fast Company too.

Add New Comment

3 Comments

  • Aneil Mishra

    Not sure how it can be only a 1,000 years old when it is 26,000 LY away.

  • Henrique Lohmann

    The image we can see on Earth is of a 1,000-year-old black hole.

  • Mark Elliott

    This headline is rather inaccurate.  The black hole doesn't look like anything (and this is mentioned in the article).  And the image of its halo is false color, stated right there in the picture caption.