"Black Hole Messier 87" by Event Horizon Telescope / CC BY 3.0

A small space rock led to a big discovery — an X-ray-belching black hole

Mar 4, 2020

By Denise Chow

The black hole appeared as a bright speck, a glowing spot against a cosmic backdrop, but one that easily could have been missed altogether — especially because astronomers weren’t even looking for it.

Students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University and scientists associated with NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission — an expedition to robotically retrieve a sample from a near-Earth asteroid — were conducting routine observations when they unexpectedly spotted the distant black hole belching out X-rays, the agency announced Friday.

What they had stumbled upon was special; it is the first time that such an X-ray outburst has been glimpsed from interplanetary space, according to NASA.

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