The first black hole ever discovered is even more massive than Science & Tech News thought
The first black hole humanity ever discovered is much more massive than previously thought, according to new research.
The galactic X-ray source, later named Cygnus X-1, was discovered in 1965 when two Geiger counters were carried aboard a suborbital missile launched from New Mexico.
It was the focus of a famous scientific bet between physicists Stephen Hawking and Kip Thorne in 1974, with Professor Hawking betting that it wasn’t a black hole.
Professor Hawking described the bet as “some form of insurance policy” in his book A Brief History of Time.
“I’ve worked a lot on black holes, and it would all be wasted if it turned out that there were no black holes,” he wrote. “But in that case, I’d have the consolation of winning my bet, which would bring me four years of Private Eye magazine.
“If there are black holes, Kip gets a year of penthouse,” he added. In the end, Mr. Hawking conceded the bet in 1990.
New observations published in the journal Science have now proven that he was right to do so.
Research has found that Cygnus X-1 contains the most massive stellar black hole ever discovered without the use of gravitational waves.
An international team of astronomers used the Very Long Baseline Array, a continental radio telescope made up of 10 shells spread across the United States, and a clever technique to measure distances in space and determine the size of the black hole.
“If we can view the same object from different locations, we can calculate its distance from us by measuring how far the object appears to be moving relative to the background,” said lead researcher, Professor James Miller-Jones.
“If you hold your finger in front of your eyes and look at it with one eye at a time, you will find that your finger seems to jump from one place to another. It is exactly the same principle,” added Prof. Miller-Jones. from Curtin University and the International Center for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR).
“We observed a full orbit of the black hole over six days and used 2011 observations from the same system with the same telescope array,” said the professor.
“This method and our new measurements show that the system is further away than previously thought, with a black hole that is significantly more massive.”
Co-author Professor Ilya Mandel of Monash University said the black hole was actually so massive that it challenged many astronomers’ ideas about how black holes form.
“Stars lose mass to their surroundings with stellar winds blowing away from their surface. To make a black hole so heavy, we need to reduce the amount of mass that bright stars lose during their lifetime,” he said.
“The black hole in the Cygnus X-1 system began life as a star, roughly 60 times the mass of the Sun, and collapsed tens of thousands of years ago,” he said. “Incredibly, it orbits its companion star – a supergiant – every five and a half days at just a fifth of the distance between the earth and the sun.
“These new observations show that the black hole is more than 20 times the mass of our sun, an increase of 50% over previous estimates,” added Prof. Mandel.