Astronomers have revisited the very first stellar-mass black hole ever identified, and found that it’s at least 50 percent more massive than we thought.
The black hole in the X-ray binary system Cygnus X-1 has been recalculated to clock in at 21 times the mass of the Sun. That makes it the most massive stellar-mass black hole ever detected without the use of gravitational waves, and it’s forcing astronomers to rethink how black holes form.
Scientists later validated the black hole interpretation of the object’s nature, concluding that the X-ray emission was produced by the black hole snacking on a binary companion.
It’s become one of the most studied black holes in the sky, and astronomers thought that it was fairly well understood: an object around 6,070 light-years away, with a mass of 14.8 solar masses, and a blue supergiant binary companion named HDE 226868 clocking in at around 24 solar masses.
We were, according to new observations, wrong.
Astronomers have conducted new parallax observations of the system, watching how it appears to ‘wobble’ in the sky as Earth orbits the Sun, using the Very Long Baseline Array, a collection of radio telescopes acting together as one continent-sized collecting dish.
Ultimately, their observations showed that Cygnus X-1 is quite a significant distance farther than we thought. Which means the objects themselves are significantly larger.
“We used radio telescopes to make high-precision measurements of Cygnus X-1 – the first black hole ever discovered,” explained astronomer James Miller Jones from the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) in Australia.
“The black hole is in a few-day orbit with a massive companion star. By tracking for the first time the black hole’s orbit on the sky, we refined the distance to the system, placing it over 7,000 light-years from Earth.
“This implied that the black hole was over 20 times the mass of our Sun, making it the most massive stellar-mass black hole ever discovered without the use of gravitational waves. This challenges our ideas of how massive stars evolve to form black holes.”
Previously, the most massive stellar-mass black hole detected electromagnetically was M33 X-7, clocking in at 15.65 times the mass of the Sun. At the time of its discovery, even M33 X-7 challenged our black hole formation models.
Scientists concluded that, as the massive star that would collapse down to form the black hole reached the end of its life, it lost mass more slowly than models suggested. They believe something similar for Cygnus X-1.
“Stars lose mass to their surrounding environment through stellar winds that blow away from their surface. But to make a black hole this heavy, we need to dial down the amount of mass that bright stars lose during their lifetimes,” said theoretical astrophysicist Ilya Mandel from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Gravitational Wave Discovery (OzGrav) in Australia.
The precursor star to the Cygnus X-1 black hole would have started out at around 60 solar masses, blasting off its outer material before the core likely directly collapsed down into the dense object it is today, bypassing a supernova explosion.
Now, it is locked in an incredibly close, 5.6-day orbital dance with its blue supergiant companion, which now also has a revised mass, bringing it up to a chunky 40 solar masses.
That’s massive enough that it, too, should one day end up as a black hole, forming a binary black hole similar to those seen in the mergers that generate gravitational waves.
It is, however, unlikely that the binary would merge soon. The refined distance measurement will also allow astronomers to recalculate other characteristics of Cygnus X-1. In a separate paper, astronomers found that it’s spinning nearly as fast as the speed of light. That’s faster than any other black hole ever measured.
This is in direct contrast with gravitational wave binaries, which have very slow, or misaligned, spins. This suggests that Cygnus X-1 followed a different evolutionary pathway than the black hole binaries we have seen merge.
Given the distance between Cygnus X-1 and HDE 226868, the researchers have calculated that the pair are unlikely to merge within a timescale equal to the age of the Universe – 13.8 billion years.
Studying the system now, before that second black hole collapse happens, presents a rare opportunity for understanding black hole binaries.
“Observations like these directly tell us a lot about the evolutionary pathways that are possible in making double black holes, some of which ground-based gravitational wave detectors like LIGO and Virgo have been regularly finding,” said physicist Ashley Ruiter of the University of New South Wales Canberra in Australia, who was not involved in the research.
“It’s great we can still catch the binary ‘in action’ with electromagnetic light before it forms a double black hole – it helps to refine our theories about close binary star evolution.”
The team’s research has been published in Science.
The inspiring hidden message in the Mars Perseverance rover's parachute – CNN International
The Greek woman who … went to Mars reveals: "We have seen pictures from another world!" – Aviation Analysis Wing
“We simply knew it at the time. I’m really excited!” We saw the pictures come back from another world. ”With these words, Eleni Ravani, the Greek researcher who participated in NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance mission, describes to NEA for the seconds The historical record in which the robotic probe safely touched the Earth of the Red Planet.The spacecraft had already traveled 471 million kilometers in six and a half months, aiming to discover traces of ancient life on Mars. ”The Greek researcher, who was in“ contact ”with it in the past, explains: Mankind is now from the conquest of the Red Planet “: As a planetary researcher and doctoral candidate at the University of Hawaii, she worked for several months in” perseverance, “but before that he worked for two years in Spain on the ESA’s Mars Express mission.
“The Perseverance spacecraft that landed last Thursday will look for signs of ancient life on Mars,” he told NEA, explaining the mission’s scientific forecast. This is the first part of a series of missions by NASA and the European Space Agency that will collect samples from the surface of Mars and transport them to Earth. Ms Ravani said: “What is particularly important in this case is where the spacecraft landed: This is the Jezero crater, which is It is believed that it was once a lake in which life could live. Perseverance is the most technologically advanced space device in history. It is like a car that has many new scientific-technological tools attached to it. One of them is the Mastcam-Z, also on the team I’m part of, that can take enlarged images of the Martian surface. Among other things, it also has a MEDA weather station. The car will take many pictures and take measurements using these special tools, in order to learn more about the region and help us better understand what is happening on Mars. “
People are on Mars
But how far are we from human exploration of the planet? Humans have been walking on Mars for several years. However, “March 2020” brings us one step closer to that, the researcher said, “because one of the main goals of the mission is to help us prepare for this human exploration.”
I’ll explain to you in two examples what this means: We have an experiment called “MOXIE”, which is going to collect carbon dioxide from the red planet’s atmosphere and convert it into oxygen. This kind of technology could one day be used by humans. Also from the MEDA data, which I mentioned above, we will study how atmospheric dust could affect future technology on Mars, that is, human life support systems. The samples that we will get from the planet will also be based on some new technologies necessary for the safe passage of people to Mars and for their return. “
According to Ms. Ravani, the first part of the mission is expected to last … a Martian year, equivalent to about two years on Earth, “but if the spacecraft remains thriving, it may continue to operate for many years, as it did with the Curiosity rover.”
Tasks like these require, after all, long intense work. “I have been working on the project for a few months, but some of my colleagues have been working on the mission for many years. At the moment of their successful joining, I felt very happy for them too,” adds the Greek researcher. “Now we have a new future ahead. The information that we will gather will help us better understand not only the past of Mars but also our past, that is, the past of the Earth. We hope to answer the question: Was life created on Mars before?” And through this, to prepare our next step. We have already started. Scientific discussions with researchers from all over the world about the data we are receiving and this is exciting. I look forward to the rover moving to the surface and pulling more material. Of course to bring the samples that it will collect back to Earth, because after that the mission “Mars 2020 will be successful.” Oh really”.
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NASA’s new rover to pave way for manned Mars missions, says Skoltech scientist – TASS
MOSCOW, February 19. /TASS/. The experiments that NASA’s Perseverance rover will conduct on Mars will pave the way for a human landing on the Red Planet, Director of the Skoltech Space Center Anton Ivanov told TASS on Friday.
“The Perseverance rover will carry out experiments that are crucial for testing ideas related to resource extraction and future Mars missions. In general, the rover’s research program will help pave the way for a human landing on Mars and get a better understanding on whether life could have ever developed there,” the researcher pointed out.
The United States’ Perseverance rover touched down on Mars in Jezero Crater overnight into Friday and sent several images of the Red Planet to Earth. The main goals of the mission are to figure out if the planet used to be habitable in the past and search for traces of life.
From a technical standpoint, Perseverance is almost entirely similar to NASA’s previous car-sized Mars rover named Curiosity. However, the new vehicle isn’t equipped with a device similar to Russia’s DAN spectrometer, which was installed on Curiosity and played a crucial role in finding traces of water in Gale Crater. According to Ivanov, the absence of such a device will affect the rover’s activities but won’t hinder efforts to find signs of previous life on Martian soil.
“The Russian device installed on Curiosity collected a large amount of data that our researchers are now analyzing. Perseverance carries a ground-penetrating radar that will make it possible to define soil stratigraphy to a depth of up to ten meters,” the Russian scientist emphasized.
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