The incredibly bright “Christmas Star” that supposedly marked the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem may have actually been a black hole eating a star, according to new research.
Astronomers at Ohio State University discovered an object twice as bright as anything ever observed before, roughly 3.8 billion light years away from Earth. The object gave off 570 billion times more light than the sun, and probably is in the death throes of being ripped apart by a supermassive black hole about 1 billion times more massive than the sun.
The scientists detailed their findings online in the journal Nature Astronomy. A similar black hole could have provided the extremely bright light visible in both day and night in the Christmas story. Only about 10 similar events have been discovered.
Scientists have long suspected that the Christmas star could have been a supernova, a type of explosion which can happen when stars die. These explosions can briefly outshine all of the other stars in a galaxy.
Researchers expect that the powerful light comes from a black hole because the galaxy in which it occurred lacks the sort of young massive stars which lead to immensely powerful and bright supernova.
The research was financially supported by a government grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). So far, the NSF has paid out $407,344 to support the telescope that made the discovery. The project successfully identified 141 supernova this year and 412 since its inception.
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