Researchers discover star orbiting a 'medium-sized' black hole

Jan 05, 2006

University of Iowa researchers have found a star orbiting a "medium-sized" black hole -- about 1,000 times more massive than the sun -- in the nearby starburst galaxy M82, a development that may help explain how medium-sized black holes form and evolve, according to a paper to be published in the Jan. 5 issue of Science Express, the online version of the journal Science.

Philip Kaaret, associate professor in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Department of Physics and Astronomy, made the discovery indirectly, by detecting modulations in X-rays produced by the black hole. His associates in the work were assistant professor Cornelia Lang and student Melanie Simet, a senior from Cedar Falls, Iowa.

"We discovered that the X-rays from the black hole get repeatedly brighter and dimmer every 62 days," he said. "This told us that the companion star orbiting around the black hole makes one orbit every 62 days. This, in turn, told us that the companion star has to be a giant star -- a phase in the evolution of a star when it becomes extremely bloated."

Kaaret said that the discovery may help confirm the existence of a class of black holes having a mass between 100 and 10,000 times that of the sun. That would make the objects larger than black holes produced by the collapse of a single normal star and smaller than the supermassive black holes found at the centers of galaxies.

"The discovery also explains why this black hole is so bright in X-rays. It's because the black hole can pull gas directly off from the outer layers of the giant star," Kaaret said.

The UI researchers, who used an x-ray telescope called the "Proportional Counter Array on NASA's Rossi X-Ray Timing Explorer," note that their discovery will await validation by new observations to be made with the Proportional Counter Array and other X-ray telescopes.

"This first discovery proves our technique, and we hope to make more discoveries with new X-ray observations of other black holes," Kaaret said.

Source: University of Iowa

Explore further: Bright points in Sun's atmosphere mark patterns deep in its interior

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Black hole makes 'String of Pearls' clusters

Apr 01, 2014

(Phys.org) —Huge young star clusters resembling a string of pearls around a black hole in the centre of a galaxy 120 million light-years away have been discovered by researchers at Swinburne University ...

Simple, like a neutron star

Mar 25, 2014

For astrophysicists neutron stars are extremely complex astronomical objects. Research conducted with the collaboration of SISSA and published in the journal Physical Review Letters demonstrates that in cer ...

Recommended for you

Astronauts to reveal sobering data on asteroid impacts

11 hours ago

This Earth Day, Tuesday, April 22, three former NASA astronauts will present new evidence that our planet has experienced many more large-scale asteroid impacts over the past decade than previously thought… ...

Rosetta instrument commissioning continues

11 hours ago

We're now in week four of six dedicated to commissioning Rosetta's science instruments after the long hibernation period, with the majority now having completed at least a first initial switch on.

Astronaut salary

12 hours ago

Talk about a high-flying career! Being a government astronaut means you have the chance to go into space and take part in some neat projects—such as going on spacewalks, moving robotic arms and doing science ...

A sharp eye on Southern binary stars

12 hours ago

Unlike our sun, with its retinue of orbiting planets, many stars in the sky orbit around a second star. These binary stars, with orbital periods ranging from days to centuries, have long been the primary ...

Hubble image: A cross-section of the universe

12 hours ago

An image of a galaxy cluster taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope gives a remarkable cross-section of the Universe, showing objects at different distances and stages in cosmic history. They range ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Cosmologists weigh cosmic filaments and voids

(Phys.org) —Cosmologists have established that much of the stuff of the universe is made of dark matter, a mysterious, invisible substance that can't be directly detected but which exerts a gravitational ...

Hubble image: A cross-section of the universe

An image of a galaxy cluster taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope gives a remarkable cross-section of the Universe, showing objects at different distances and stages in cosmic history. They range ...

Hackathon team's GoogolPlex gives Siri extra powers

(Phys.org) —Four freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania have taken Apple's personal assistant Siri to behave as a graduate-level executive assistant which, when asked, is capable of adjusting the temperature ...

Better thermal-imaging lens from waste sulfur

Sulfur left over from refining fossil fuels can be transformed into cheap, lightweight, plastic lenses for infrared devices, including night-vision goggles, a University of Arizona-led international team ...

Deadly human pathogen Cryptococcus fully sequenced

Within each strand of DNA lies the blueprint for building an organism, along with the keys to its evolution and survival. These genetic instructions can give valuable insight into why pathogens like Cryptococcus ne ...