While stars like our Sun go gently into that good night, stars more than 25 times more massive explode in violent supernovae. Since stars that big are rare, their explosions are too, so astronomers typically have to do forensic work on supernova remnants in our galaxy. One particular remnant is one the brightest X- and gamma-ray sources around, marking it as a relatively recent explosion. By studying the remnant, astronomers have determined it likely harbors the youngest black hole in the Milky Way, and the original explosion may have been extremely energetic.
Laura A. Lopez, Enrico Ramirez-Ruiz, Daniel Castro, and Sarah Pearson used long-exposure X-ray observations to study the remnant. They found distinct signs of a supernova with strong jets shooting from the poles. The astronomers failed to find any sign of a neutron star, meaning the supernova must have left a black hole instead. And the emissions suggest it's only 1,000 years of age, which would make the black hole the youngest known in our galaxy.
Over their lifetimes, stars fuse light atoms into slightly heavier ones, but fusing most of the elements in the periodic table requires the intense energies of a supernova. By mapping certain of these elements—iron in particular—in a supernova remnant, astronomers can recreate the conditions under which the star died.