Even though initially the scientists believed it was a supernova, now, according to new research, astronomers believe that they observed a black hole birth or neutron star formation. The Cow was first spotted on June 16 after the ATLAS telescope captured an extremely bright anomaly 200 million light-years away in the Hercules constellation.
After combining a range of different image sources, including X-rays and radiowaves, the team led by Northwestern University in the USA believe they know what caused it.
After looking at several images, hard X-rays and microwaves of the object officially known as AT2018cow, researchers determined that their telescopes captured the exact moment a star collapse and a black hole was formed. When a massive star dies, it explodes as a supernova and leaves behind either a black hole or an incredibly dense object called a neutron star. It's unusual to see black holes of this scale outside the center of a galaxy, but it's possible the Cow occurred in a nearby satellite galaxy or a globular star cluster whose older stellar populations could have a higher proportion of white dwarfs than average galaxies.
Over three days, the Cow produced a sudden explosion of light at least 10 times brighter than a typical supernova, and then it faded over the next few months.
The shock wave from the explosion traveled at one-tenth the speed of light-about 30,000 kilometers per second-according to University of Sydney Ph.D. student Dougal Dobie, who was observing the Cow with a radio telescope, the CSIRO's Australia Telescope Compact Array in Narrabri.
Telescopes were trained on the phenomenon previous year, which was 100 times brighter than a supernova.
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"We knew right away that this source went from inactive to peak luminosity within just a few days", Margutti said. "That was enough to get everybody excited because it was so unusual and, by astronomical standards, it was very close by".
The phenomena is similar to a supernova, when a dying star results in the formation of a black hole or neutron star.
Using telescopes at the Keck Observatory in Hawaii, the team learned about the chemical cover of the Cow. Traditional analysis of stellar deaths has only been done in the optical wavelength.
The Cow disappeared as quickly as it appeared.
Using data from multiple NASA missions, including the Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory and the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR), a team of scientists speculate that the Cow is a monster black hole shredding a passing star.
Margutti attributes The Cow's relative nakedness to potentially unraveling this intergalactic mystery.
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Using data gathered from 16 telescopes around the world, Margutti's team analyzed data on the Cow over a broad range of wavelengths that spanned from radio waves to gamma rays, as well as hard X-rays, which are 10 times more powerful than normal X-rays.
This enabled them to continue studying the anomaly long after its initial visible brightness faded.
"A "lightbulb" was sitting deep inside the ejecta of the explosion", Margutti explained.
Prof Margutti added: "Two hundred million light years is close for us, by the way. This is the closest transient object of this kind that we have ever found", Margutti observed.
Calculating that the "offending" black hole was between 100,000 to one million times the mass of our Sun, the "tidal disruption event" proponents believe the star that was shredded was a dwarf star only about the size of Earth.
"Being given the opportunity to contribute to something as cutting edge and global as understanding AT2018cow as an undergrad is a surreal experience", said co-author Daniel Brethauer, a first-year undergraduate student at Northwestern.
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