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ESA's high-energy space telescopes Integral and XMM-Newton have helped to find a source of powerful X-rays at the centre of an unprecedentedly bright and rapidly evolving stellar explosion that suddenly appeared in the sky earlier this year.
The ATLAS telescope in Hawaii first spotted the phenomenon, since then named AT2018cow, on 16 June. Soon after that, astronomers all over the world were pointing many space- and ground-based telescopes towards the newly found celestial object, located in a galaxy some 200 million light years away.
Something - Days - Object - Brightness - Explosion
They soon realised this was something completely new. In only two days the object exceeded the brightness of any previously observed supernova – a powerful explosion of an aging massive star that expels most of its material into the surrounding space, sweeping up the interstellar dust and gases in its vicinity.
A new paper, accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal, presents the observations from the first 100 days of the object's existence, covering the entire electromagnetic spectrum of the explosion from radio waves to gamma rays.
Analysis - Observations - ESA - Integral - XMM-Newton
The analysis, which includes observations from ESA's Integral and XMM-Newton, as well as NASA's NuSTAR and Swift space telescopes, found a source of high-energy X-rays sitting deep inside the explosion.
The behaviour of this source, or engine, as revealed in the data, suggests that the strange phenomenon could either be a nascent black hole or neutron star with a powerful magnetic field, sucking in the surrounding material.
Interpretation - Time - Birth - Hole - Star
"The most exciting interpretation is that we might have seen for the first time the birth of a black hole or a neutron star," says Raffaella Margutti of Northwestern University, USA, lead author of the paper.
"We know that black holes and neutron stars form when stars collapse and explode as a supernova, but never before have we seen one right at the time of birth," adds co-author Indrek...
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