Black hole or a neutron star — NASA puzzled over strange bright lights in the 'Fireworks' galaxy

Black hole or a neutron star — NASA puzzled over strange bright lights in the 'Fireworks' galaxy
FNuSTAR X-ray Observatory spotted strange flashing lights in the 'Fireworks' galaxyNASA


  • The NuStar X-ray Observatory spotted strange lights flashing in Galaxy 6946 — the ‘Fireworks’ galaxy.
  • The National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA) thinks that they could either be a result of a black hole or a neutron star swallowing up another space object.
  • The observatory spotted the lights on its hunt to track down supernova explosions in the galaxy.
The ‘Fireworks Galaxy’ 22.5 million light years away from Earth is flashing light signals into the universe. And scientists, have no idea why.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) NuStar X-ray Observatory caught green and blue flashes on light in the galaxy officially named the NGC 6946.

There are two explanations — it could ve a black hole or a neutron star — according to a new study published in the Astrophysical Journal.

The irony is that the observatory wasn’t really looking for either of them.


The primary objective of NuSTAR observations was to study the explosion of a star — a supernova. In the image captured by the X-ray telescope, the supernova explosion can be seen as the blue-green spot in the upper right corner.

But the other two flashing lights are still of questionable origin.

A violent black hole

The green spot near the bottom of the image has been named ultra-luminous x-ray source 4 (ULX-4).

Scientists determined that its not a supernova explosion because the resulting light lasts a lot longer.

“Usually with NuSTAR, we observe more gradual changes over time, and we don't often observe a source multiple times in quick succession. In this instance, we were fortunate to catch a source changing extremely quickly, which is very exciting,” stated Hannah Earnshaw, the lead author of the study.

Instead, they think that it could a black hole swallowing up an object that got too close — like a neighbouring star.

‘Short-lived’ or ‘transient’ X-ray sources like ULX-4 are rare which increases the likelihood of it being a black hole that quickly destroying a small star, according to NASA.

Hungry neutron star

If a star isn’t big enough to form a blck hole when it dies, it turns into a neutron star instead. Like black holes, it’s a dense space object that eats up anything in its path.

Where black holes have a magnetic disk of debris that swirls around really fast, neutron stars generate columns of material instead. These columns create a magnetic field around the star.

If the neutron star itself is spinning at a high speed, the columns are spinning as well — creating a barrier that keeps anything else from getting through.

"It would kind of be like trying to jump onto a carousel that's spinning at thousands of miles per hour," said Earnshaw.

But every once in a while, the magnetic barrier can waver giving rouge material the chance to slip through and fall onto the star’s surface. This would create enough energy for the neutron star to throw off a light signal.

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