Cygnus X-1 was the First Black Hole Ever Found. New Measurements Show it's Much More Massive Than Previously Believed

In 1964 two Aerobee suborbital rockets were launched with the goal of mapping x-ray sources in the sky. Each rocket contained a directed Geiger counter, so that as the rocket rotated at the peak of its trajectory to measure the direction of x-ray sources. The project discovered eight x-ray sources, including a particularly bright one in the constellation Cygnus. It became known as Cygnus X-1.

Cygnus X-1 as imaged by a balloon bourne telescope. Credit: NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center
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A Cluster of Black Holes Found Inside a Globular Cluster of Stars

Black holes come in at least two sizes: small and large. Small black holes are formed from stars. When a large star reaches the end of its life, it typically ends in a supernova. The remnant core then collapses under its own weight, forming a black hole or neutron star. Small stellar-mass black holes are typically tens of solar masses. Large black holes lurk in the centers of galaxies. These supermassive black holes can be millions or billions of solar masses. They formed during the early universe and triggered the formation and evolution of galaxies around them.

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Black Holes Simulated in a Tank of Water Reveals “Backreaction” for the First Time

It’s hard to make a black hole in the lab. You have to gather up a bunch of mass, squeeze it until it gravitationally collapses on itself, work, work, work. It’s so hard to do that we’ve never done it. We can, however, make a simulated black hole using a tank of water, and it can tell us interesting things about how black holes work.

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When Galaxies Collide, Black Holes Don’t Always Get the Feast They Were Hoping for

What happens when galaxies collide? Well, if any humans are around in about a billion years, they might find out. That’s when our Milky Way galaxy is scheduled to collide with our neighbour the Andromeda galaxy. That event will be an epic, titanic, collision. The supermassive black holes at the center of both galaxies will feast on new material and flare brightly as the collision brings more gas and dust within reach of their overwhelming gravitational pull. Where massive giant stars collide with each other, lighting up the skies and spraying deadly radiation everywhere. Right?

Maybe not. In fact, there might be no feasting at all, and hardly anything titanic about it.

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In Theory, Supermassive Black Holes Could get Even More Supermassive

Our universe contains some enormous black holes. The supermassive black hole in the center of our galaxy has a mass of 4 million Suns, but it’s rather small as galactic black holes go. Many galactic black holes have a billion solar masses, and the most massive known black hole is estimated to have a mass of nearly 70 billion Suns. But just how big can a black hole get?

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A Galaxy is Making New Stars Faster Than its Black Hole Can Starve Them for Fuel

A monster lurks at the heart of many galaxies – even our own Milky Way. This monster possesses the mass of millions or billions of Suns. Immense gravity shrouds it within a dark cocoon of space and time – a supermassive black hole. But while hidden in darkness and difficult to observe, black holes can also shine brighter than an entire galaxy. When feeding, these sleeping monsters awaken transforming into a quasar – one of the Universe’s most luminous objects. The energy a quasar radiates into space is so powerful, it can interfere with star formation for thousands of light years across their host galaxies. But one galaxy appears to be winning a struggle against its awoken blazing monster and in a recent paper published in the Astrophysical Journal, astronomers are trying to determine how this galaxy survives.

Animation of Interstellar Matter Falling into a Black Hole Creating a Quasar – ESA
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Black Holes Gain new Powers When They Spin Fast Enough

General relativity is a profoundly complex mathematical theory, but its description of black holes is amazingly simple. A stable black hole can be described by just three properties: its mass, its electric charge, and its rotation or spin. Since black holes aren’t likely to have much charge, it really takes just two properties. If you know a black hole’s mass and spin, you know all there is to know about the black hole.

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Hubble Sees Dark Shadows That Could Be Cast by a Supermassive Black Hole

We use the term ‘supermassive black hole’ with a kind of casual familiarity. But stop and think about what they really are: Monstrous, beguiling singularities where the understood laws of physics and cosmology are brought to their knees. A region where gravity is so powerful that it warps everything around it, drawing material in—even light itself—and sometimes spitting out jets of energy at near-light-speed.

It was only recently that we got our first image of one of these monstrosities. Now, the Hubble has captured an image of a supermassive black hole (SMBH), or what might be part of its shadow, anyway.

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Merging Black Holes and Neutron Stars. All the Gravitational Wave Events Seen So Far in One Picture

The Theory of Relativity predicted the existence of black holes and neutron stars. Einstein gets the credit for the theory because of his paper published in 1915, even though other scientists’ work helped it along. But regardless of the minds behind it, the theory predicted black holes, neutron stars, and the gravitational waves from their mergers.

It took about one hundred years, but scientists finally observed these mergers and their gravitational waves in 2015. Since then, the LIGO/Virgo collaboration has detected many of them. The collaboration has released a new catalogue of discoveries, along with a new infographic. The new infographic displays the black holes, neutron stars, mergers, and the other uncertain compact objects behind some of them.

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