The concentric ripples are actually X-ray echoes from a flare in a distant binary system. Credit: X-ray: NASA / CXC / U. Wisc-Madison / S. Heinz et al .; Optical / IR Range: Pan-STARRS

NASA Telescope Spots Massive Rings Around a Black Hole— 10 Things You Need to Know

NASA has shared an image of ripples in dusty clouds caused by an X-ray burst in a binary system of a black hole and a star.

American scientists using NASA’s Chandra and Swift space observatories have captured a bright short-lived phenomenon – a sequence of concentric rings around a black hole, which are echoes from X-ray flares. Such images of giant X-ray rings provide new information about the dust contained in our Galaxy.


Huge X-ray rings around a black hole – everything you need to know

The Image

This impressive picture is a combination of two images captured by three different instruments: the Pan-STARRS telescope in Hawaii and the Chandra X-Ray Observatory and Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory orbiting telescopes. The picture of the stars in the background was taken with the first telescope, and we see the light blue waves thanks to the last two.

Binary System V404 Cygni

At the center of these waves – at a distance of 7800 light-years from us – is the binary system V404 Cygni form a black hole weighing 9 Suns and a star with a mass of about half that of the Sun.

The Black hole

A black hole “pulls” matter from the star, forming discs around itself that glow in the X-ray range – for this, it and similar systems are called “X-ray binaries.”

Spike in X-ray activity

In 2015, Swift detected a spike in X-ray activity in the system. The radiation then bounced off the dust clouds between the source and the Earth, like an echo. The X-ray rings in the image represent the echoes of multiple flashes bouncing off various clouds.

New data

These events allowed astronomers to learn a lot not only about the system itself but also about the space between it and us. So, by the diameter of these rings, you can find out the distance from the corresponding dust cloud to the Earth: the larger the ring, the closer the cloud from which the light has bounced off.

Diameter

NASA also explained why the inner diameter of the X-ray rings is so small: the matter is in the short duration of the burst itself.

The illustration explains why we see X-ray rings of light of different diameters. It is clearly seen that the closer to us the dust cloud is, from which the rays bounce, the smaller the resulting ring. Credit: Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison / S. Heinz
The illustration explains why we see X-ray rings of light of different diameters. It is clearly seen that the closer to us the dust cloud is, from which the rays bounce, the smaller the resulting ring. Credit: Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison / S. Heinz

Observations

A total of 50 observations of the Swift telescope were analyzed, and the Chandra Observatory monitored the system on July 11 and 25 in 2015. The team even had to move the latter so that the V404 Cygni was between the instrument’s detectors in order to avoid damage in the event of another burst of equally extreme brightness.

X-Ray spectrum analysis

Also, scientists were able to analyze the X-ray spectrum and compare the results with computer models in order to find out the composition of dust clouds.

Results

It turned out that the dust most likely contains silicon and graphite. In addition, the previously stated assumption that the cloud density changes uniformly in all directions was refuted.

Additional Information

The research was led by Sebastian Heinz of the University of Wisconsin. Other variations of this image, including the two initial photos taken separately, are available on the Chandra Observatory website.


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Sources:

Chandra. (n.d.). Photo album :: V404 Cygni :: August 5, 2021.
Howell, E. (2021, August 9). Bizarre black hole shoots x-ray rings while making spacetime wobble. Forbes.
Mohon, L. (2021, August 5). Huge rings around a black hole. NASA.
Pultarova, T. (2021, August 10). Powerful x-ray burst from black HOLE ripples Through galactic dust in new NASA image. Space.com.
Starr, M. (n.d.). Huge x-ray rings around a black Hole reveal the Hidden dust between stars. ScienceAlert.

Written by Vladislav Tchakarov

Hello, my name is Vladislav and I am glad to have you here on Curiosmos. My experience as a freelance writer began in 2018 but I have been part of the Curiosmos family since mid-2020. As a history student, I have a strong passion for history and science, and the opportunity to research and write in this field on a daily basis is a dream come true.

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