Black holes are one of the last mysteries of the universe, hard to imagine. But thanks to a recent NASA image, we can now imagine a little better
Ghost rings around the black hole were captured by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory. X-ray images reveal things that would otherwise be invisible.
A starry binary system has a black hole – and the black hole’s gravitational force pulls material away from the star and into a disk around it.
The black hole and star system is called V404 Cygni and is approximately 7,800 light-years from Earth. The star has about half the mass of our Sun.
Launched in 2004, the space-based Swift Observatory discovered an X-ray burst from a binary system in June 2015. The explosion actually created energetic rings that can be seen in X-rays.
The phenomenon that forms the rings is a faint echo. The explosion of X-rays from the binary system in this system occurs when they are reflected from dust clouds scattered in space between the V404 Cygni system and Earth.
It’s like smoking a cigarette full of dust but full of tiny solid particles.
A new image released by NASA combines X-rays observed by Chandra with data collected in optical light from the Pan-STARRS telescope in Hawaii, which populates the surrounding stars.
In 2015, the Chandra system followed on July 11 and 25, while Swift followed the system from June 30 to August 25.
Eight rings created by X-rays from 2015 torches can be seen bouncing off dust clouds. These rings could help scientists better understand the black hole in the V404 Cygni system and the vacuum gap between the system and Earth.
The diameter of the rings allows researchers to determine the distances of the dust clouds used to form the light rings. The larger the ring, the closer the cloud is to Earth.
Putting the X-rays on another job
The researchers used X-rays in much the same way we use them at doctor’s offices or airport baggage screenings.
This means they can use the brightness of X-rays to determine the composition of dust clouds based on how much X-rays they absorb.
The researchers found that the dust most likely consisted of graphite and silicate grains.
The new image is another interesting glimpse into mysterious black holes and how X-ray observatories may illuminate other invisible aspects of the universe.
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