For the first time, astronomers have spotted the ultra-dense core of a star in its explosive death throes — and it might be turning into a new black hole.
On June 17, scientists at the Keck Observatory in Hawaii spotted an incredibly-bright stellar explosion, many times brighter than a supernova, that they nicknamed “the Cow.”
Now, further study has revealed that the Cow resulted in either an ultra-dense neutron star or a brand-new black hole — and in either case, spotting the cosmic event is a world first for Earthling scientists.
According to Keck Observatory astronomers who spoke to The Verge about their work, which will soon be published in Astrophysical Journal, the massive explosion is a sign that a massive, dying star cast away its outer layers to leave behind a massive, dense core.
Regardless of whether it’s a black hole or neutron star, the Keck astronomers hope to measure how the new object grows, rotates, and changes over time.
“We’ve seen isolated neutron stars, neutron stars crashing into each other, and we’ve seen material falling into black holes,” physicist Duncan Brown, who didn’t work on the Keck research, told The Verge. “This observation could very well be these things being born. That’s pretty cool.”
More on stellar births: Ultra-Detailed New Image of Nearby Galaxy Shows Stars Being Born