Scientists using Nasa's Chandra X-ray satellite observatory along with the efforts of an amateur astronomer, have found evidence of possibly the youngest black hole known to exist in Earth's cosmic neighbourhood.
During a news conference at Nasa's Washington headquarters, the team announced the findings.
Evidence was first uncovered in 1979 by an amateur astronomer making observations in a rural area outside Washington, DC.
Astronomers have subsequently been observing the supernova, SN 1979C, for 30 years before announcing their findings.
"What's really exciting about it is that we know the exact birth date of the black hole," astrophysicist Kimberly Weaver explained. We've found for the first time, possibly, the true birth date of a black hole."
The black hole could help scientists better understand how stars explode, which ones leave behind black holes or neutron stars, and the number of black holes in our galaxy and others.
According to current theory, stellar black holes are formed when stars burn up their nuclear fuel and then explode as supernovas. The dying star collapses into a single point of density that creates such a powerful gravitational field that nothing, not even light, can escape. Since it gives out no light it is invisible, giving the object its name.
"We want to watch how this system evolves and changes in its youthful stages from when it's first born and to when it grows into a child and a teenager and gets older and accretes more material because that's how we understand the physics of black hole systems," Weaver said.
The 30-year-old object is a remnant of SN 1979C, a supernova in the galaxy M100, approximately 50 million light years from Earth. The scientists think SN 1979C formed when a star around 20 times larger than the sun collapsed.