August 30, 2015 at 5:47 pm

Hicks in Dispatch: Star Suddenly Spewing X-rays Gives Sign of Massive Black Hole

Dr. Kenneth Hicks

Dr. Kenneth Hicks

Dr. Kenneth Hicks, Professor of Physics & Astronomy, wrote a column for the Columbus Dispatch on “Astronomy: X-ray burst a telltale sign of massive black hole.”

After lying dormant for several decades, a variable star suddenly started spewing X-rays in a massive outburst in June. This kind of rare event gives astronomers a chance to learn what happens when matter disappears into a black hole.

It’s hard to see a lone black hole. But if the black hole is part of a system that has another star orbiting it, the black hole will gobble up matter extracted from its companion star and spew X-rays.

Although we can’t see the black hole directly, the X-rays are a telltale sign that either a black hole or a neutron star is there.

The black-hole system of interest here is called V404 Cygni, in which the black hole is about nine times the mass of our sun, and its companion star is about half the sun’s size….

One of the most fascinating effects of the outbursts from V404 Cygni comes when the X-rays speed toward Earth and hit a curtain of dust….This has been captured by the Swift telescope and can be seen in a really cool video at NASA’s website. (Watch NASA’s video of V404 Cygni Black Hole becoming an X-ray nova on YouTube.)

Read the rest of Hicks’ column in the Dispatch.

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