Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Heaviest Stellar Black Hole Discovered In Nearby Galaxy

Date:
October 18, 2007
Source:
Chandra X-ray Center
Summary:
Astronomers have located the most massive stellar black hole ever found. The black hole is part of a binary system in M33, a nearby galaxy about 3 million light years from Earth. This new finding offers intriguing implications for the evolution and ultimate fate of massive stars.

The main component of this graphic is an artist's representation of M33 X-7, a binary system in the nearby galaxy M33. In this system, a star about 70 times more massive than the Sun (large blue object) is revolving around a black hole. This black hole is almost 16 times the Sun's mass, a record for black holes created from the collapse of a giant star. Other black holes at the centers of galaxies are much more massive, but this object is the record-setter for a so-called "stellar mass" black hole.
Credit: NASA/CXC/M.Weiss; X-ray: NASA/CXC/CfA/P.Plucinsky et al.; Optical: NASA/STScI/SDSU/J.Orosz et al.

Astronomers have located an exceptionally massive black hole in orbit around a huge companion star. This result has intriguing implications for the evolution and ultimate fate of massive stars.

The black hole is part of a binary system in M33, a nearby galaxy about 3 million light years from Earth. By combining data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Gemini telescope on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, the mass of the black hole, known as M33 X-7, was determined to be 15.7 times that of the Sun. This makes M33 X-7 the most massive stellar black hole known. A stellar black hole is formed from the collapse of the core of a massive star at the end of its life.

"This discovery raises all sorts of questions about how such a big black hole could have been formed," said Jerome Orosz of San Diego State University, lead author of the paper appearing in the October 18th issue of the journal Nature.

M33 X-7 orbits a companion star that eclipses the black hole every three and a half days. The companion star also has an unusually large mass, 70 times that of the Sun. This makes it the most massive companion star in a binary system containing a black hole.

"This is a huge star that is partnered with a huge black hole," said coauthor Jeffrey McClintock of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass. "Eventually, the companion will also go supernova and then we'll have a pair of black holes."

The properties of the M33 X-7 binary system - a massive black hole in a close orbit around a massive companion star - are difficult to explain using conventional models for the evolution of massive stars. The parent star for the black hole must have had a mass greater than the existing companion in order to have formed a black hole before the companion star.

Such a massive star would have had a radius larger than the present separation between the stars, so the stars must have been brought closer while sharing a common outer atmosphere. This process typically results in a large amount of mass being lost from the system, so much that the parent star should not have been able to form a 15.7 solar-mass black hole.

The black hole's progenitor must have shed gas at a rate about 10 times less than predicted by models before it exploded. If even more massive stars also lose very little material, it could explain the incredibly luminous supernova seen recently as SN 2006gy. The progenitor for SN 2006gy is thought to have been about 150 times the mass of the Sun when it exploded.

"Massive stars can be much less extravagant than people think by hanging onto a lot more of their mass toward the end of their lives," said Orosz. "This can have a big effect on the black holes that these stellar time-bombs make."

Coauthor Wolfgang Pietsch was also the lead author of an article in the Astrophysical Journal that used Chandra observations to report that M33 X-7 is the first black hole in a binary system observed to undergo eclipses. The eclipsing nature enables unusually accurate estimates for the mass of the black hole and its companion.

"Because it's eclipsing and because it has such extreme properties, this black hole is an incredible test-bed for studying astrophysics," said Pietsch.

Since black holes can't be seen -- because they trap all matter and light that enters them -- they are detected by the gravitational effects they have on nearby stars or other matter that is near them. This team made their calculations by measuring the motion of a star as it orbited abound the black hole, known as M33 X-7. The black hole completes one orbit every 3.45 days around its massive companion star.

"In this particular case, an eclipse in the system provided the exact orientation and gave mass information far more accurate than any previous reports," said Bailyn. "Researchers rarely have such accurate points of reference."

The length of the eclipse seen by Chandra gives information about the size of the companion. The scale of the companion's motion, as inferred from the Gemini observations, gives information about the mass of the black hole and its companion. Other observed properties of the binary were used to constrain the mass estimates.

NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala., manages the Chandra program for the agency's Science Mission Directorate. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory controls science and flight operations from the Chandra X-ray Center in Cambridge, Mass. Gemini is an international partnership managed by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy under a cooperative agreement with the National Science Foundation.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Chandra X-ray Center. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Chandra X-ray Center. "Heaviest Stellar Black Hole Discovered In Nearby Galaxy." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 October 2007. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071017145225.htm>.
Chandra X-ray Center. (2007, October 18). Heaviest Stellar Black Hole Discovered In Nearby Galaxy. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 30, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071017145225.htm
Chandra X-ray Center. "Heaviest Stellar Black Hole Discovered In Nearby Galaxy." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071017145225.htm (accessed August 30, 2014).

Share This




More Space & Time News

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Experiment Tests Whether Universe Is Actually A Hologram

Experiment Tests Whether Universe Is Actually A Hologram

Newsy (Aug. 27, 2014) Researchers at Fermilab are using a device called "The Holometer" to test whether our universe is actually a 2-D hologram that just seems 3-D. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Rocket Explodes After Liftoff

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Rocket Explodes After Liftoff

Newsy (Aug. 23, 2014) The private spaceflight company says it is preparing a thorough investigation into Friday's mishap. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Did Russia Really Find Plankton On The ISS? NASA Not So Sure

Did Russia Really Find Plankton On The ISS? NASA Not So Sure

Newsy (Aug. 21, 2014) Russian cosmonauts say they've found evidence of sea plankton on the International Space Station's windows. NASA is a little more skeptical. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Space to Ground: Hello Georges

Space to Ground: Hello Georges

NASA (Aug. 18, 2014) Europe's ATV-5 delivers new science and the crew tests smart SPHERES. Questions or comments? Use #spacetoground to talk to us. Video provided by NASA
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins