For the first time, scientists believe they have witnessed the birth of a black hole. The evidence began arriving 30 years ago when a star 50 million light-years away imploded, setting into motion events that created a region where gravity is so great that nothing can escape, even light.
The initial 1979 observation of the exploding star was made by an amateur astronomer from Western Maryland, but the profession's top scientists have studied it intently with increasingly sophisticated orbiting X-ray telescopes.
In announcing the discovery Monday at NASA headquarters, the researchers said that although the information they have collected is consistent with the birth of a baby black hole, they cannot rule out some other possibilities. Nonetheless, they spoke enthusiastically about what they are learning and will learn about the evolution of black holes.
"We've never known before the exact birthday of a black hole, and now we can watch as it grows into a child and teenager," said Kimberly Weaver, an astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. "Learning about black holes has been like solving a puzzle, and this will help us get closer to a full understanding."