Astronomers may have spotted the birth of either a black hole or a neutron star after investigating a mysteriously bright flash in the night sky.
The object was detected last June, suddenly flaring up and then vanishing within the Hercules constellation – roughly 200 million light years away from Earth.
After combining a range of different image sources, including X-rays and radiowaves, the team led by Northwestern University in the US believe they know what caused it.
According to Dr Raffaella Margutti, the twin telescopes of the ATLAS survey in Hawaii captured the exact moment that a star collapsed to form a compact object.
This object was either a black hole or a neutron star – both incredibly dense regions of space – and the stellar debris approaching the event horizon of the object was responsible for the flash.
We think that ‘The Cow’ is the formation of an accreting black hole or neutron star, said Dr Margutti, who led the research.
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, she stressed.
The Cow was up to 100 times too bright to be a supernova, said Dr Margutti, and disappeared too quickly too.
Particles were ejected away from it at a speed of 30,000km per second – or 10% of the speed of light.
It peaked within just 16 days, where typically supernovae can last for millions and billions of years.
We knew right away that this source went from inactive to peak luminosity within just a few days, Dr Margutti said.
That was enough to get everybody excited because it was so unusual and, by astronomical standards, it was very close by.
Dr Margutti will present her findings at the American Astronomical Society before the research is published in the Astrophysical Journal.