November 24, 2017

07.04.11: Catching a Black Hole in the Act.

An artist’s conception of a black hole gobbling a star. (Credit: NASA/CXC/M. Weiss).

NASA’s swift spacecraft caught something interesting on the night of March 28th, 2011. Launched in 2004, the spacecraft is designed to detect extragalactic x-ray and gamma-ray flashes. And what a flash they caught in GRB 110328A; a burst four billion light years distant that peaked at a brightness one trillion times that of our own Sun. But what’s truly interesting was that the power curve seen by astronomers was consistent with a galactic mass black hole devouring a star. Word on the astro-street from the Bad Astronomer, Phil Plait is that a yet to be released set of Hubble follow up images of the region seem consistent with the burst occurring near the core of a distant galaxy. In addition, NASA’s Fermi satellite, which also watches for gamma-ray bursts, has detected no past activity from the galaxy in question; this was an individual event without precedent. Did astronomers witness a “death by black hole” of a star? Perhaps such an event could occur if a nearby passage of another star put the body on a doomsday orbit. And interesting side note; astronomers established a thread to track GRBs in another pair of science/astronomy blogs that you might have heard of, the Bad Astronomy/Universe Today bulletin board. Much of the initial discovery and follow-up action occurred here, a forum worth following. And they say, “What good is blogging…”