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Did explosion spawn Milky Way's youngest black hole? (pictures)

An oddly shaped supernova remnant may contain our galaxy's most recent -- and closest -- black hole.

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James Martin

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1 of 5 NSF/NRAO/VLA

Rare explosion spawns our galaxy's youngest black hole

This newly formed supernova remnant, called W49B, is only about a thousand years old as seen from Earth -- and located about 26,000 light-years away. Scientists believe that a black hole might have been created -- a mysterious, compact object whose gravitational pull is so strong that nothing can escape its pull, not even light.
When a massive star burns all of its fuel, the result is the collapse of the core, triggering a supernova explosion. Typically, these explosions are symmetrical, ejecting material evenly in all directions, and then collapsing into a dense neutron star core.
W49B, though, is different. There is no neutron star remaining, which implies the supernova may have instead resulted in the creation of a black hole -- one that is very close to Earth. Material near the poles of the star ejected much faster than the material from the equator in this case, NASA believes.
Supernova explosions are not particularly well-understood in the scientific community, which is why this one is so exciting. The close proximity to Earth is a good opportunity for more detailed study of these powerful cosmic events.
Read more about W49B here.
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2 of 5 NSF/NRAO/VLA

Optical view of W49B

The optical view of W49B. There's evidence that W49B left behind a black hole -- not a neutron star like most other supernovas.
"W49B is the first of its kind to be discovered in the galaxy," said Laura Lopez, who led the study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "It appears its parent star ended its life in a way that most others don't."
Read more about W49B here.
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3 of 5 NASA

X-ray image of W49B

An X-ray image from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory showing W49B in purples and blues.
Read more about W49B here.
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4 of 5 NSF/NRAO/VLA

Radio data from W49B

Radio data from the National Science Foundation's Very Large Array shows W49B in pink.
Read more about W49B here.
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5 of 5 NSF/NRAO/VLA

Chandra X-ray image of W49B

A Chandra X-ray image of W49B showing the silicon in blue.
The Chandra X-ray Observatory is one of NASA's "Great Observatories" along with the Hubble Space Telescope, the Spitizer Space Telescope, and the now deorbited Compton Gamma Ray Observatory.
Read more about W49B here.

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