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 ArticlesFlip-flopping black holes spin to the end of the dance
When black holes tango, one massive partner spins head over heels (or in this case heels over head) until the merger is complete, said researchers at Rochester Institute of Technology in a paper published in Physical Review Letters. Hubble finds ghosts of quasars past
The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has imaged a set of enigmatic quasar ghosts -- ethereal green objects which mark the graves of these objects that flickered to life and then faded.Black holes don't erase information, scientists say
Shred a document, and you can piece it back together. Burn a book, and you could theoretically do the same. But send information into a black hole, and it's lost forever.Hubble finds phantom objects near dead quasars
NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has photographed a set of wispy, goblin-green objects that are the ephemeral ghosts of quasars that flickered to life and then faded.Why isn't the universe as bright as it should be?
A handful of new stars are born each year in the Milky Way, while many more blink on across the universe. Galactic 'rain' could be key to star formation
Some of the galaxies in our universe are veritable star nurseries. For example, our own Milky Way produces, on average, at least one new star every year.New insight found in black hole collisions
New research by an astrophysicist at The University of Texas at Dallas provides revelations about the most energetic event in the universe -- the merging of two spinning, orbiting black holes into a much larger black hole.Found: Ancient, super-bright quasar with massive black hole
Quasars--supermassive black holes found at the center of distant massive galaxies--are the most-luminous beacons in the sky. Astronomers find impossibly large black hole
An international team of astronomers have found a huge and ancient black hole which was powering the brightest object early in the universe.Monster black hole discovered at cosmic dawn
Scientists have discovered the brightest quasar in the early universe, powered by the most massive black hole yet known at that time.
More Black Hole Current Events and Black Hole News Articles
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)
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 shadows. Not until astronomers discovered such surprising new phenomena as neutron stars and black holes did the once-sedate universe...
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 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 Hole Focus: How Intelligent People Can Create a Powerful Purpose for Their Lives|
by Isaiah Hankel (Author)
"...an absurdly motivating book." –A.J. Jacobs, New York Times bestselling author Don’t get stuck on a career path you have no passion for. Don’t waste your intelligence on something that doesn’t really mean anything more to you than a paycheck. Let Isaiah Hankel help you define a focus so powerful that everything in your life will be pulled towards it. Create your purpose and change your life. Be focused. Be fulfilled. Be successful. Black Hole Focus has been endorsed by top names in business, entrepreneurship, and academia, including 4 times New York Times bestseller AJ Jacobs and Harvard Medical School Postdoc Director Dr. Jim Gould. The book is broken up into 3 different sections; the first section shows you why you need a purpose in life, the second section shows you how to...
Black Holes (True Books: Space)|
by Ker Than (Author)
Book Details:Format: PaperbackPublication Date: 3/1/2010Pages: 48Reading Level: Age 7 and Up
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.
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: A Kids Book About Space - What is a Black Hole? Learn About the Physics and Mysteries of Black Holes|
Children's author Jared Johnson presents: "Black Holes: A Kids Book About Space - What is a Black Hole? Learn About the Physics and Mysteries of Black Holes". This informative children's book includes brilliant REAL, high-quality photographs & some of the most interesting, important facts about Black Holes.
Aside from the beautiful pictures, Jared uncovers some of the most intriguing facts about black holes like:
Where do Black Holes come from and how are they formed?
What do Black Holes look like and how do we know that they exist?
Will our own Sun turn into a Black Hole?
This book is appropriate for children over the age of 8 and young adults because of the physics and space concepts presented in this book.
Get this book at this...
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...