Star and black hole spotted in tight orbital dance
"Prior to this discovery, the closest star around any likely black hole was a system known as MAXI J1659-152, which is in an orbit with a 2.4-hour period", said Miller-Jones.
Astronomers have just spotted a star whizzing around a vast black hole at about 2.5 times the distance between Earth and the Moon, and it takes only half an hour to complete one orbit. But back in 2015, one of the objects was found to be a black hole, throwing that hypothesis into serious doubt.
"This white dwarf is so close to the black hole that material is being pulled away from the star and dumped onto a disk of matter around the black hole before falling in", astrophysicist Arash Bahramian, with the University of Alberta in Canada and Michigan State University, said in a press release.
"Luckily for this star, we don't think it will follow this path into oblivion, but instead will stay in orbit".
The researchers thought the binary star system is composed of two stars.
The binary system of the star and black hole is called X9, and the black hole within the system appears to be a stellar-mass black hole, which is relatively small.
The discovery was made using the collective power of three of the most advanced X-ray and radio telescopes in existence - NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory; NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR), which observes higher-energy X-rays; and the Australia Telescope Compact Array (ATCA), a state-of-the-art set of six radio telescopes operated by the Astronomy and Space Science Division of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).
The star, which was originally discovered in 1989, is part of a binary star system known as 47 Tuc X9, which had baffled scientists when first discovered, but they are finally revealing some information.
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The binary might have been born when a black hole encountered a red giant - a bloated, dying star on its way to becoming a white dwarf, the researchers said.
"Eventually so much matter may be pulled away from the white dwarf that it ends up becoming an exotic kind of planet", said Craig Heinke, an associate professor in the Department of Physics who helped lead the global team investigating the phenomenon.
University of Alberta's Craig Heinke noted that the amount of matter pulled away from the white dwarf will eventually make it into an exotic kind of planet.
Imagine being caught in the clutches of a black hole, being whirled around at dizzying speeds and having your mass slowly but continually sucked away.
Using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, researchers have noticed a constant dip in the brightness of the system every 28 minutes, which is likely the length of time the star takes to pass in front of the black hole and to complete an orbit.
How did the black hole get such a close companion? "If it keeps losing mass, the white dwarf may completely evaporate".
Recently, astronomers have found a particularly interesting binary. Test your knowledge of these wacky wonders.
The binary star system called X9 is not new to astronomers. This possibility is less likely based on the extreme variability seen from the X-ray and radio observations; however, the researchers can not yet disprove this explanation and plan to continue studying X9 to better understand the properties of such extreme systems.
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