Black Hole Birth Revealed Through Cosmic Flashes

Scientists may now have a way of viewing something they never have before: the birth of a black hole.

Black holes form when a star dies and collapses under its own gravity. The gravitational force is so strong that not even light can escape its grasp. However, new research indicates that a black hole may emit a burst of light just before it dies.

The research comes from astrophysicist Tony Piro at the California Institute of Technology. It involves a type of star death called a Unnova, whereby a shockwave is emitted from the star core, driving matter into space. The event would create a glow visible for over a year. Because of its brightness, however, we probably wouldn't be able to see it from Earth, unless it were in one of the nearer systems.

"That flash is going to be very bright, and it gives us the best chance for actually observing that this event occurred," Piro said. "This is what you really want to look for."

According to Piro, the flash would last for about three to ten days and be most visible within the optical and ultraviolet wavelengths.Current technology should allow us to see about one such flash each year. However, this number should be improved with the introduction of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) within the next decade.

"If LSST isn't regularly seeing these kinds of events, then that's going to tell us that maybe there's something wrong with this picture, or that black-hole formation is much rarer than we thought," Piro said.

The study is published in the May 1 issue of Astrophysical Journal Letters.

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