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 ArticlesNASA'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.NASA's Fermi telescope poised to pin down gravitational wave sources
On Sept. 14, waves of energy traveling for more than a billion years gently rattled space-time in the vicinity of Earth.Supermassive black holes may be lurking everywhere in the universe
A near-record supermassive black hole discovered in a sparse area of the local universe indicates that these monster objects - this one equal to 17 billion suns - may be more common than once thought, according to University of California, Berkeley, astronomers.Behemoth black hole found in an unlikely place
Astronomers have uncovered one of the biggest supermassive black holes, with the mass of 17 billion Suns, in an unlikely place: the centre of a galaxy that lies in a quiet backwater of the Universe.Gravitational wave search provides insights into galaxy evolution and mergers
New results from NANOGrav - the North American Nanohertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves - establish astrophysically significant limits in the search for low-frequency gravitational waves.Fast radio burst 'afterglow' was actually a flickering black hole
Last February a team of astronomers reported detecting an afterglow from a mysterious event called a fast radio burst, which would pinpoint the precise position of the burst's origin, a longstanding goal in studies of these mysterious events.Earth-space telescope system produces hot surprise
Astronomers using an orbiting radio telescope in conjunction with four ground-based radio telescopes have achieved the highest resolution, or ability to discern fine detail, of any astronomical observation ever made. York University astrophysicists detect ultra-fast winds near supermassive black hole
New research led by astrophysicists at York University has revealed the fastest winds ever seen at ultraviolet wavelengths near a supermassive black hole.The center of the Milky Way
Researchers have been mapping the centre of our galaxy in very-high-energy gamma rays using these telescopes - the most sensitive of their kind - for over 10 years. Record-breaking ultraviolet winds discovered near black hole
The fastest winds ever seen at ultraviolet wavelengths have been discovered near a supermassive black hole by a research team that includes a Penn State University astronomer.
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)
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...
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...
The Black Hole: Book One of The Shadow Order: A Space Opera|
by Phalanx Press
Seb Zodo lives on the dusty planet of Danu. He’s an unemployed dropout who makes his money fighting in bars and taking a cut of the winnings from the touts.
Having never lost a fight, Seb is addicted to the adrenaline of the duel. So when he makes a promise to leave brawling behind, his world’s turned on its head. Especially when he finds himself with no money on a hostile planet where the fighting pits offer more than Seb has ever won before.
Trapped and with no way out, Seb must decide whether to fight or not.
Every decision he makes with his fists seems to throw his life into deeper chaos, but he’s already hit rock bottom.
With the smell of blood and sweat from the fighting pits in his nostrils, Seb watches the current...
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 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.
Seven Brief Lessons on Physics|
by Carlo Rovelli (Author)
Instant New York Times Bestseller
“Short and resonant. . . . The essays in Seven Brief Lessons on Physics arrive like shots of espresso.”—The New York Times
“A startling and illustrative distillation of centuries of science.”—The Economist
“Lean, lucid and enchanting.”—New Scientist
The international bestseller that reveals all the beauty of modern physics in seven short and enlightening lessons
Seven Brief Lessons on Physics is a book about the joy of discovery. Carlo Rovelli brings a playful, entertaining, and mind-bending introduction to modern physics, offering surprising—and surprisingly easy to grasp—explanations of Einstein's general relativity, quantum mechanics, elementary particles, gravity, black holes, the...
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
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 Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)|
by Katherine Blundell (Author)
Black holes are a constant source of fascination to many due to their mysterious nature. This Very Short Introduction, addresses a variety of questions, including what a black hole actually is, how they are characterized and discovered, and what would happen if you came too close to one.
Professor Katherine Blundell looks at the seemingly paradoxical, mysterious, and intriguing phenomena of black holes. Outlining their nature and characteristics, both those resulting from the spectacular collapse of heavy stars, and the giant black holes found at the centres of galaxies, she separates scientific fact from science fiction, and demonstrates the important role they play in the cosmos.
ABOUT THE SERIES:
The Very Short Introductions series from Oxford University Press contains...