An illustration of a failed supernova. Credit: P. Jeffries/STScI/NASA/ESA.

A Star Seemingly Disappeared in 2009 Leaving Experts Baffled, JWST May Have an Answer

This usually doesn't happen, and it left experts scratching their heads.


In 2009, the cosmic stage witnessed an intriguing act: a massive star, 25 times heftier than the Sun, seemingly disappeared without a trace. This usually doesn’t happen, and it left experts scratching their heads. While previously it had shone brightly, rivaling the luminosity of a million suns, the star known as N6946-BH1 unexpectedly dimmed, eluding observations from major telescopes like Hubble, Spitzer, and the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT). Was it a failed supernova or a different celestial event? Thanks to the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), researchers are inching closer to an answer.

Unraveling the Cosmic Mystery

When N6946-BH1’s luminosity surged, it signaled the potential of a looming supernova explosion. Instead, the star’s light gradually waned, culminating in its vanishing act. This behavior led many to label it a “failed supernova”, theorizing that it had transformed into a black hole without the characteristic supernova flare.

However, that’s just one side of the narrative.


The James Webb’s Revelations

Recent findings from JWST are providing a clearer picture. Analyzing data from its NIRCam and MIRI instruments, researchers spotted a bright infrared source. This could either be a dust shell residue from the original star or the glow from materials being sucked into a black hole. Astonishingly, instead of one, three remnant objects emerged in the data.

Given this revelation, the likelihood of N6946-BH1 being a failed supernova diminishes. Instead, the evidence tilts toward a stellar merger; what we witnessed in 2009 might have been the fusion of two stars.

A Stellar Mystery Deepens

Yet, the data doesn’t completely exclude the failed supernova theory, making the whole event a complex celestial puzzle. Gravitational wave observatories like LIGO have shown that stellar-mass black holes are commonplace. We know massive stars can morph into black holes, but the path they take remains elusive. The journey from a supernova to a stellar-mass black hole, especially for colossal stars, still puzzles experts.


N6946-BH1’s location in a galaxy 22 million light-years away showcases the prowess of JWST. As the telescope delves deeper into space, hopes are high that more such mysterious stars will come into focus, furthering our understanding of the universe’s intricate workings.

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Written by Ivan Petricevic

I've been writing passionately about ancient civilizations, history, alien life, and various other subjects for more than eight years. You may have seen me appear on Discovery Channel's What On Earth series, History Channel's Ancient Aliens, and Gaia's Ancient Civilizations among others.

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