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Black Holes Encyclopedia

Blazing Toward Darkness

Two different mechanisms for the birth of black holes may produce outbursts of energy visible across billions of light-years, according to an international team of astronomers.

A black hole is an object with such powerful gravity that not even light can escape it. But the creation of a black hole can produce a titanic outpouring of energy called a gamma-ray burst. Such bursts produce as much energy in a few seconds as the Sun will generate in its 10-billion-year lifetime.

A team of astronomers headed by Lajos Balazs of Konkoly Observatory in Budapest found that the outbursts seem to fall into two categories: those that last two seconds or less, and those that are longer.

The longer outbursts may result from the explosions of stars at least 30 times as massive as the Sun. The cores of these stars are crushed to form black holes. The shorter outbursts probably produce black holes, too, perhaps when two neutron stars or two smaller black holes merge.