Science

Ghostly rings that look like a ‘Stargate’ are found around a black hole 7,800 light-years away 

Ghostly rings that look like a ‘Stargate’ are found around a black hole 7,800 light-years away

  • NASA took images of a ‘spectacular’ set of rings around a black hole 7,800 light-years from Earth
  • The black hole and its star system, V404 Cygni, were photographed by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory
  • The black hole is pulling material from the star, which creates the rings visible only in X-rays
  • The rings are created by light echoes, similar to when sound waves bounce off hard surfaces on Earth
  • The X-ray burst from the star system was first detected in June 2015

NASA has captured images of a ‘spectacular’ set of rings around a black hole that looks like a stargate, 7,800 light-years from Earth.

The black hole and its corresponding star system, known as V404 Cygni, were photographed by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory.

The black hole is pulling material away from the star in the system, which has roughly half the mass of the sun, an event that created the rings visible only in X-rays.

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NASA took images of a ‘spectacular’ set of rings around a black hole 7,800 light-years from Earth. The black hole and its star system, V404 Cygni, were photographed by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory. The black hole is pulling material from the star, which creates the rings visible only in X-rays

‘The rings tell astronomers not only about the black hole’s behavior, but also about the landscape between V404 Cygni and Earth,’ researchers at the Chandra X-Ray Observatory wrote in a statement.

‘For example, the diameter of the rings in X-rays reveals the distances to the intervening dust clouds the light ricocheted off. If the cloud is closer to Earth, the ring appears to be larger, and vice versa. The light echoes appear as narrow rings rather than wide rings or haloes because the X-ray burst lasted only a relatively short period of time.’

The rings are created by light echoes, similar to what happens on Earth when sound waves bounce off hard surfaces. 

‘Instead of sound waves bouncing off a canyon wall, the light echoes around V404 Cygni were produced when a burst of X-rays from the black hole system bounced off of dust clouds between V404 Cygni and Earth,’ the statement added. 

‘Cosmic dust is not like household dust but is more like smoke, and consists of tiny, solid particles.’

The rings are created by light echoes, similar to when sound waves bounce off hard surfaces on Earth The X-ray burst from the star system was first detected in June 2015

The rings are created by light echoes, similar to when sound waves bounce off hard surfaces on Earth The X-ray burst from the star system was first detected in June 2015

The rings are helpful to scientists to understand the black hole in greater detail, as well as the distance between V404 Cygni and Earth, the statement added.

‘For example, the diameter of the rings in X-rays reveals the distances to the intervening dust clouds the light ricocheted off. If the cloud is closer to Earth, the ring appears to be larger, and vice versa. The light echoes appear as narrow rings rather than wide rings or haloes because the X-ray burst lasted only a relatively short period of time.’

The X-ray burst from the star system was first detected in June 2015, but it wasn’t until recently that images were released. 

The composite image is a combination of the X-rays that were seen by the Chandra Observatory and data from the Pan-STARRS telescope in Hawaii that show the stars in the field of view. 

The composite image is a combination of the X-rays that were seen by the Chandra Observatory

And data from the Pan-STARRS telescope in Hawaii that show the stars in the field of view

The composite image is a combination of the X-rays that were seen by the Chandra Observatory and data from the Pan-STARRS telescope in Hawaii

Chandra watched the system between July 11 and 25, 2015, while Swift made 50 observations of it between June 30 and August, 25, 2015.

The Swift Observatory was launched into space 17 years ago and the Chandra X-ray Observatory was launched into space July 23, 1999.

A study of the X-ray burst was published in July 2016 in The Astrophysical Journal. 

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