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05.25.17

Massive Star Goes Out With a Whimper Instead of a Bang (Artist's Concept)

Every second a star somewhere out in the universe explodes as a supernova. But some extremely massive stars go out with a whimper instead of a bang. When they do, they can collapse under the crushing tug of gravity and vanish out of sight, only to leave behind a black hole.

The doomed star N6946-BH1 was 25 times as massive as our sun. It began to brighten weakly in 2009. But, by 2015, it appeared to have winked out of existence. By a careful process of elimination, based on observations by the Large Binocular Telescope and NASA's Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes, researchers eventually concluded that the star must have become a black hole. This may be the fate for extremely massive stars in the universe.

This illustration shows the final stages in the life of a supermassive star that fails to explode as a supernova, but instead implodes to form a black hole.