Scientists have discovered that the first black hole ever to be recorded is actually twice as massive as had originally been thought.
Cygnus-X-1 was discovered in 1964 after two Geiger counters were launched into space from New Mexico on a sub-orbital rocket. At the time, the system was reported to be located some 7,200 light years away from Planet Earth.
This was the first ever black hole to be confirmed by astronomers, famously leading to the great Sir Stephen Hawking losing a bet made with Professor Kip Thorne over its status. Sir Hawking eventually conceded to Professor Thorne in 1990, 26 years after the initial discovery.
As per new research published in the journal Science, the black hole is actually much bigger than had previously been understood; so large in fact that it is now challenging what astronomers thought they knew about how black holes are formed.
Using a combination of new techniques and advanced telescopes, astronomers have determined that Cygnus-X-1 is actually 50% bigger than had originally been thought, being 21 times the mass of the Sun.
Astronomers from Australia’s Curtin University have described this as a new record for a black hole that has been observed directly as a result of matter entering into it.
According to these new findings, it was also found that the black hole was 20% further away from Earth than had previously been thought.
As per the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR), Professor Miller-Jones of Curtin University said:
Over six days we observed a full orbit of the black hole and used observations taken of the same system with the same telescope array in 2011.
This method and our new measurements show the system is further away than previously thought, with a black hole that’s significantly more massive.
Co-author Professor Ilya Mandel from Monash University and the ARC Centre of Excellence in Gravitational Wave Discovery (OzGrav) has also given the following statement:
Stars lose mass to their surrounding environment through stellar winds that blow away from their surface. But to make a black hole this heavy, we need to dial down the amount of mass that bright stars lose during their lifetimes.
The black hole in the Cygnus X-1 system began life as a star approximately 60 times the mass of the Sun and collapsed tens of thousands of years ago. Incredibly, it’s orbiting its companion star—a supergiant—every five and a half days at just one-fifth of the distance between the Earth and the Sun.
These new observations tell us the black hole is more than 20 times the mass of our Sun—a 50 per cent increase on previous estimates.
The research team has stated that these findings have shed new light on the life cycles of the most enormous stars in the cosmos.
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CreditsThe International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) and 1 other
The International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR)