A Famous Black Hole Gets a Massive Update

A Famous Black Hole Gets a Massive Update

A Famous Black Hole Gets a Massive Update

A Famous Black Hole Gets a Massive Update

Sometimes, depending on circumstance, this endgame collapse is marked by a stupendous supernova explosion. In this case, however, Dr. Miller-Jones wrote in an email, “We think that the black hole formed via almost direct collapse into a black hole, rather than in a type II supernova explosion.” Such an explosion, he said, would have kicked the binary star pair out of an assemblage of similarly massive stars in which it formed and, apparently, still lives.

Since then, the black hole has been feeding, pulling in gas from its puffed-up neighbor, which, with roughly 40 solar masses, has a lot to give, according to Dr. Miller-Jones.

The new measurement of the mass of Cygnus X-1 was serendipitous. “We had not set out to remeasure the distance and black-hole mass,” Dr. Miller-Jones said. “But when we had analyzed our data, we realized its full potential.”

In the spring of 2016, Dr. Miller-Jones and his group spent six days observing Cygnus X-1 with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s Very Long Baseline Array, a nationwide network of antennas operated out of Socorro, N.M. They were trying to investigate the connection between X-ray-emitting gas flowing into the black hole and high-speed radio jets shooting out of it.

But part of the process allowed them to triangulate the distance to Cygnus X-1, increasing it from about 6,000 light-years to a little over 7,000. Interestingly, Dr. Miller-Jones noted, this also brought the distance into better agreement with early results from the European Space Agency’s Gaia space telescope, whose measurements had been in mild tension with the previously accepted distance.

When that change in distance was factored into the calculations of luminosity and mass, the black hole’s estimated mass grew by about 40 percent, to 21 solar masses.


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