VLBA observations key to 'complete description' of black hole
November 18, 2011
Precise distance measurement allowed calculation of mass, spin rate
For the first time, astronomers have produced a complete description of a black hole, a concentration of mass so dense that not even light can escape its powerful gravitational pull. Their precise measurements have allowed them to reconstruct the history of the object from its birth some six million years ago.
Using several telescopes, both ground-based and in orbit, the scientists unravelled longstanding mysteries about the object called Cygnus X-1, a famous binary-star system discovered to be strongly emitting X-rays nearly a half-century ago. The system consists of a black hole and a companion star from which the black hole is drawing material. The scientists' efforts yielded the most accurate measurements ever of the black hole's mass and spin rate.
"Because no other information can escape from a black hole, knowing its mass, spin, and electrical charge gives a complete description of it," said Mark Reid, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA). "The charge of this black hole is nearly zero, so measuring its mass and spin make our description complete," he added.
Though Cygnus X-1 has been studied intensely since its discovery, previous attempts to measure its mass and spin suffered from lack of a precise measurement of its distance from Earth. Reid led a team that used the National Science Foundation's Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA), a continent-wide radio-telescope system, to make a direct trigonometric measurement of the distance. Their VLBA observations provided a distance of 6070 light-years, while previous estimates had ranged from 5800-7800 light-years.
Armed with the new, precise distance measurement, scientists using the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, the Rossi X-Ray Timing Explorer, the Advanced Satellite for Cosmology and Astrophysics, and visible-light observations made over more than two decades, calculated that the black hole in Cygnus X-1 is nearly 15 times more massive than our Sun and is spinning more than 800 times per second.
"This new information gives us strong clues about how the black hole was born, what it weighed and how fast it was spinning," Reid said. "Getting a good measurement of the distance was crucial," Reid added.
"We now know that Cygnus X-1 is one of the most massive stellar black holes in the Milky Way," said Jerry Orosz, of San Diego State University. "It's spinning as fast as any black hole we've ever seen," he added.
In addition to measuring the distance, the VLBA observations, made during 2009 and 2010, also measured Cygnus X-1's movement through our Galaxy. That movement, the scientists, said, is too slow for the black hole to have been produced by a supernova explosion. Such an explosion would have given the object a "kick" to a much higher speed.
"There are suggestions that this black hole could have been formed without a supernova explosion, and our results support those suggestions," Reid said.
Reid, Orosz, and Lijun Gou, also of CfA, were the lead authors of three papers on Cygnus X-1 published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.
The VLBA, dedicated in 1993, uses ten, 25-meter-diameter dish antennas distributed from Hawaii to St. Croix in the Caribbean. It is operated from the NRAO's Domenici Science Operations Center in Socorro, NM. All ten antennas work together as a single telescope with the greatest resolving power available to astronomy. This unique capability has produced landmark contributions to numerous scientific fields, ranging from Earth tectonics, climate research, and spacecraft navigation to cosmology.
Ongoing upgrades in electronics and computing have enhanced the VLBA's capabilities. With improvements now nearing completion, the VLBA will be as much as 5,000 times more powerful as a scientific tool than the original VLBA of 1993.
The National Radio Astronomy Observatory is a facility of the National Science Foundation, operated under cooperative agreement by Associated Universities, Inc.
National Radio Astronomy Observatory
Related Black Hole Current Events and Black Hole News ArticlesScientists discover how supermassive black holes keep galaxies turned off
An international team of scientists has identified a common phenomenon in galaxies that could explain why huge numbers of them turn into cosmic graveyards.Supermassive black holes in 'red geyser' galaxies cause galactic warming
An international team of scientists, including the University of Kentucky's Renbin Yan, have uncovered a new class of galaxies, called "red geysers," with supermassive black hole winds so hot and energetic that stars can't form. Supermassive black hole wind can stop new stars from forming
Scientists have uncovered a new class of galaxies with supermassive black hole winds that are energetic enough to suppress future star formation. Hubble finds clues to the birth of supermassive black holes
Astrophysicists have taken a major step forward in understanding how supermassive black holes formed. Using data from Hubble and two other space telescopes, Italian researchers have found the best evidence yet for the seeds that ultimately grow into these cosmic giants.NASA scientist suggests possible link between primordial black holes and dark matter
Dark matter is a mysterious substance composing most of the material universe, now widely thought to be some form of massive exotic particle. Astrophysicists from the IAC discover an intense wind in the neighborhood of a black hole
V404 Cygni is a black hole within a binary system located in the constellation of Cygnus. In such systems, of which less than 50 are known, a black hole of around 10 times the mass of the Sun is swallowing material from a very nearby star, its companion star.Hubble spies a spiral snowflake
Together with irregular galaxies, spiral galaxies make up approximately 60 percent of the galaxies in the local universe. Intense wind found in the neighborhood of a black hole
An international team of astrophysicists, including Professor Phil Charles from the University of Southampton, have detected an intense wind from one of the closest known black holes to the Earth. UCI astronomers determine precise mass of a giant black hole
Astronomers from the University of California, Irvine and other universities have derived a highly precise measurement of the mass of a black hole at the center of a nearby giant elliptical galaxy.NASA's Fermi Telescope helps link cosmic neutrino to blazar blast
Nearly 10 billion years ago, the black hole at the center of a galaxy known as PKS B1424-418 produced a powerful outburst. Light from this blast began arriving at Earth in 2012.
More Black Hole Current Events and Black Hole News Articles
Black Hole (Pantheon Graphic Novels)|
by Charles Burns (Author)
Winner of the Eisner, Harvey, and Ignatz Awards
The setting: suburban Seattle, the mid-1970s. We learn from the outset that a strange plague has descended upon the area’s teenagers, transmitted by sexual contact. The disease is manifested in any number of ways — from the hideously grotesque to the subtle (and concealable) — but once you’ve got it, that’s it. There’s no turning back.
As we inhabit the heads of several key characters — some kids who have it, some who don’t, some who are about to get it — what unfolds isn’t the expected battle to fight the plague, or bring heightened awareness to it , or even to treat it. What we become witness to instead is a fascinating and eerie portrait of the nature of high school alienation itself — the savagery,...
Black Hole: How an Idea Abandoned by Newtonians, Hated by Einstein, and Gambled On by Hawking Became Loved|
by Marcia Bartusiak (Author)
The contentious history of the idea of the black hole—the most fascinating and bizarre celestial object in the heavens
For more than half a century, physicists and astronomers engaged in heated dispute over the possibility of black holes in the universe. The weirdly alien notion of a space-time abyss from which nothing escapes—not even light—seemed to confound all logic. This engrossing book tells the story of the fierce black hole debates and the contributions of Einstein and Hawking and other leading thinkers who completely altered our view of the universe.
Renowned science writer Marcia Bartusiak shows how the black hole helped revive Einstein’s greatest achievement, the general theory of relativity, after decades during which it had been pushed into the...
Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries|
by Neil deGrasse Tyson (Author)
“[Tyson] tackles a great range of subjects . . . with great humor, humility, and―most important― humanity.” ―Entertainment Weekly Loyal readers of the monthly "Universe" essays in Natural History magazine have long recognized Neil deGrasse Tyson's talent for guiding them through the mysteries of the cosmos with clarity and enthusiasm. Bringing together more than forty of Tyson's favorite essays, ?Death by Black Hole? explores a myriad of cosmic topics, from what it would be like to be inside a black hole to the movie industry's feeble efforts to get its night skies right. One of America's best-known astrophysicists, Tyson is a natural teacher who simplifies the complexities of astrophysics while sharing his infectious fascination for our...
Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space|
by Janna Levin (Author)
The authoritative story of the headline-making discovery of gravitational waves—by an eminent theoretical astrophysicist and award-winning writer.
From the author of How the Universe Got Its Spots and A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines, the epic story of the scientific campaign to record the soundtrack of our universe.
Black holes are dark. That is their essence. When black holes collide, they will do so unilluminated. Yet the black hole collision is an event more powerful than any since the origin of the universe. The profusion of energy will emanate as waves in the shape of spacetime: gravitational waves. No telescope will ever record the event; instead, the only evidence would be the sound of spacetime ringing. In 1916, Einstein predicted the existence of...
A Black Hole Is Not a Hole|
by Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano (Author), Michael Carroll (Illustrator)
Get ready to S-T-R-E-T-C-H your mind!
What is a black hole? Where do they come from? How were they discovered? Can we visit one? Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano takes readers on a ride through the galaxies (ours, and others), answering these questions and many more about the phenomenon known as a black hole.
In lively and often humorous text, the book starts off with a thorough explanation of gravity and the role it plays in the formation of black holes. Paintings by Michael Carroll, coupled with real telescopic images, help readers visualize the facts and ideas presented in the text, such as how light bends, and what a supernova looks like.
A BLACK HOLE IS NOT A HOLE is an excellent introduction to an extremely complex scientific concept. Back matter includes a timeline...
Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays|
by Stephen W. Hawking (Author)
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
THIRTEEN EXTRAORDINARY ESSAYS SHED NEW LIGHT ON THE MYSTERIES OF THE UNIVERSE—AND ON ONE OF THE MOST BRILLIANT THINKERS OF OUR TIME.
In his phenomenal bestseller A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking literally transformed the way we think about physics, the universe, reality itself. In these thirteen essays and one remarkable extended interview, the man widely regarded as the most brilliant theoretical physicist since Einstein returns to reveal an amazing array of possibilities for understanding our universe.
Building on his earlier work, Hawking discusses imaginary time, how black holes can give birth to baby universes, and scientists’ efforts to find a complete unified theory that would predict everything in the universe. With his...
Black Holes (True Books: Space (Paperback))|
by Ker Than (Author)
- Clean new design for easy readability and comprehension
- Updated text presented in a lively, continuous narrative
- New center-spread "sidebar" feature presenting material in a fun, creative way
- Excellent age-appropriate introduction to curriculum-relevant subjects
- "Important Words" glossary clarifies subject-specific vocabulary
- "Resources" section encourages independent study
- Index makes navigating subject matter easy
Black Holes and Time Warps: Einstein's Outrageous Legacy (Commonwealth Fund Book Program)|
by Kip S. Thorne (Author), Stephen Hawking (Foreword)
Ever since Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity burst upon the world in 1915 some of the most brilliant minds of our century have sought to decipher the mysteries bequeathed by that theory, a legacy so unthinkable in some respects that even Einstein himself rejected them. Which of these bizarre phenomena, if any, can really exist in our universe? Black holes, down which anything can fall but from which nothing can return; wormholes, short spacewarps connecting regions of the cosmos; singularities, where space and time are so violently warped that time ceases to exist and space becomes a kind of foam; gravitational waves, which carry symphonic accounts of collisions of black holes billions of years ago; and time machines, for traveling backward and forward in time.
Black Holes: Everything You Need to Know About Black Holes and Black Hole Physics (space exploration, space, astronomy, Cosmology)|
Everything you Need to Know about Black Holes and Black Hole Physics!
Black Holes have been, and are still to this day, one of the great mysteries of cosmology. They have inspired the imaginations of generations when looking out into space and have been the focus of astronomy for years. Today, much is known about black hole physics and the characteristics of these great beasts of space. This book will bring you up to speed with what we know today about black holes.
Here Is A Preview Of What You'll Learn...Black Hole FundamentalsBlack Hole HistoryBlack Hole FormationBlack Hole AnatomyEvent HorizonSpace and TimeEntering a Black HoleCosmology and AstronomySchwarzschild RadiusPrimordial Black HoleSupermassive Black HoleStellar Black HoleSingularityPhoton...
BLACK HOLES! The little black hole at the edge of the galaxy. (Space Rocks!) (Volume 1)|
by Nicole J Cunkle (Author), Nicole J Cunkle (Illustrator)
BLACK HOLES! The little black hole at the edge of the galaxy is a unique educational book, inspiring young minds to learn more about black holes by making them come to life.