Black Holes

X-ray Telescopes Find Evidence for Wandering Black Hole

Oct
04

XJ1417+52
Astronomers have used NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and ESA's XMM-Newton X-ray observatory to discover an extremely luminous, variable X-ray source located outside the center of its parent galaxy. This peculiar object could be a wandering black hole that came from a small galaxy falling into a larger one.

Astronomers think that supermassive black holes, with some 100,000 to 10 billion times the Sun's mass, are in the centers of most galaxies. There is also evidence for the existence of so-called intermediate mass black holes, which have lower masses ranging between about 100 and 100,000 times that of the Sun.

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2016: The Year of the Black Hole (1)

Oct
03

The 2016 Nobel Prize in physics will be announced in only 4 days, on Tuesday October 4th. Ronald Drever, Kip Thorne and Rainer Weiss, three founders of the detection of gravitational waves (2). They have already won multiple awards for this discovery including the Kavli Prize in Astrophysics, the Gruber Cosmology Prize, a Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics and the Shaw Prize in Astronomy. (Kudos to those behind the Gruber Cosmology Prize and the Special Breakthrough Prize for explicitly naming the LIGO team in their awards, something the Nobel Prize award likely won’t do.)

2016 Laureate Astro Group
Ronald Drever, Kip Thorne and Rainer Weiss (left to right). Credit: The Kavli Foundation.
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Poetry and Black Holes

Aug
19

We welcome back Jonathan Taylor as a guest blogger. Jonathan is a Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester, UK, along with an author and critic. He has written several poems for us in the past: “Black Hole in B-flat”, “History Lesson” and “!!**&@??”. He has also organized poetry competitions among his students, in blog posts here, here, here, here and here.

I was fascinated by Chandra’s press release of 27 June 2016, ‘Clandestine Black Hole May Represent New Population.’ The very title of the press release sounds ‘poetic,’ in the idea of ‘Clandestine’ – a concealed or secretive – Black Hole; and the findings described in the press release are even more so: having concluded that “a peculiar source of radio waves thought to be a distant galaxy is actually a nearby binary star system containing a low-mass star and a black hole,” astronomers have suggested that “there may be a vast number of black holes in our Galaxy that have gone unnoticed until now .... Because this study only covered a very small patch of sky, the implication is that there should be many of these quiet black holes around the Milky Way. The estimates are that tens of thousands to millions of these black holes could exist within our Galaxy, about three to thousands of times as many as previous studies have suggested.”

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Chandra Finds Evidence for Violent Stellar Merger

Jul
13

GRB 140903A
Gamma-ray bursts, or GRBs, are some of the most violent and energetic events in the Universe. Although these events are the most luminous explosions in the universe, a new study using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, NASA's Swift satellite and other telescopes suggests that scientists may be missing a majority of these powerful cosmic detonations.

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Tracking Down a Stealthy Black Hole

Jun
27

We are pleased to welcome Bailey Tetarenko as our guest blogger. She is the lead author on a paper featured in our latest press release about a possible new population of black holes in the Galaxy. Bailey received her undergraduate degree in Astrophysics at the University of Calgary and then a master’s in Physics at the University of Alberta in 2014. She is now two years into her Ph.D. in Physics at the University of Alberta, where she is studying the black hole population of the Milky Way.

Bailey Tetarenko
From right to left Bailey Tetarenko, Dr. Arash Bahramian and Dr. Craig Heinke and Dr. Greg Sivakoff. Credit: John Ulan


For fans of black holes, we live in exciting times. Nearly all of our empirical knowledge about stellar mass black holes – that is, black holes weighing about 5 to 35 times the mass of the sun – comes from black hole X-ray binary systems. In these systems a black hole pulls in material from a nearby companion star, causing the system to become very bright in X-rays. But, recently gravitational waves have been detected from pairs of distant black holes that emit no electromagnetic radiation (a.k.a. all forms of light). And now, my team's work suggests that there are many black hole X-ray binaries in our own Milky Way that emit relatively little X-rays.

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Cosmic Genealogy: the Ancestors of Supermassive Black Holes

May
24
Fabio Pacucci
Fabio Pacucci

It is a pleasure to welcome Fabio Pacucci as a guest blogger. Fabio led the study that is the subject of our latest press release. He is going to defend his Ph.D. Thesis at the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa (Italy), under the supervision of Andrea Ferrara. During his Ph.D. he spent several months at the Institute d’Astrophysique de Paris (IAP) in France, Yale University and Harvard University in the USA. In September he is starting his first postdoctoral position at Yale University. Fabio has mainly been working on understanding the properties of the first black hole seeds, formed when the Universe was less than one billion years old.

It was a sunny and hot afternoon in Pisa when Andrea Ferrara, my Ph.D. supervisor, suggested that I study the first black holes formed in the Universe. This topic is among the most interesting in cosmology. We know that almost every galaxy hosts a supermassive black hole (SMBH) at its center. In the Milky Way there is a black hole about 4 million times more massive than the Sun, but objects up to 10 billion times the mass of the Sun have also been observed.

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Destroyed Star Rains onto Black Hole, Winds Blow it Back

Oct
21

tidal
Astronomers have observed material being blown away from a black hole after it tore a star apart, as reported in our press release. This event, known as a "tidal disruption," is depicted in the artist's illustration.

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Trying to Understand the Milky Way's Black Hole

Sep
23
Gabriele Ponti
Gabriele Ponti

Dr. Gabriele Ponti is the Marie Sklodowska-Curie EU Research Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Germany. Prior to that, he was a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Southampton in the UK, after spending a year at Cambridge University’s Institute of Astronomy. Dr. Ponti earned his Ph.D. from Bologna University in Italy before moving on to the Laboratories Astro-Particule et Cosmologie in Paris. His doctoral thesis topic was studying relativistic effects in bright active galactic nuclei and he has been interested in this area since then.

As a boy, I read about the existence of black holes for the first time. I still remember the fascination of trying to grasp the physical concepts behind one of the weirdest manifestations of nature.

Black holes produce an enormous gravitational pull, as a consequence of being extremely compact: a significant amount of mass concentrated in a very small volume.

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Milky Way's Black Hole Shows Signs of Increased Chatter

Sep
23

SgrA*
Three orbiting X-ray telescopes have been monitoring the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy for the last decade and a half to observe its behavior. This long monitoring campaign has revealed some new changes in the patterns of this 4-million-solar-mass black hole known as Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*).

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Magnetar Near Supermassive Black Hole Delivers Surprises

May
13

SGR 1745-2900
In 2013, astronomers announced they had discovered a magnetar exceptionally close to the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way using a suite of space-borne telescopes including NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory.

Magnetars are dense, collapsed stars (called "neutron stars") that possess enormously powerful magnetic fields. At a distance that could be as small as 0.3 light years (or about 2 trillion miles) from the 4-million-solar mass black hole in the center of our Milky Way galaxy, the magnetar is by far the closest neutron star to a supermassive black hole ever discovered and is likely in its gravitational grip.

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