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Astronomers Find Star Closely Orbiting A Black Hole

First Posted: Mar 16, 2017 05:30 AM EDT
A Tour Of X9 in 47 Tucanae
Recently, astronomers have found a particularly interesting binary. This pair has a white dwarf star in orbit around a black hole. While scientists have found this configuration many times before, this binary, known as X9, is special. That’s because it has the closest orbit ever seen between a black hole and a companion star.

(Photo : Chandra X-ray Observatory/YouTube screenshot)

Astronomers found a star circling a massive black hole, just about 2.5 times the distance between the Earth and the Moon. They also observed that the star whips around the black hole at breakneck speeds, making orbits around the black hole at almost twice an hour.

According to EurekAlert, the discovery was made with the help of three of the most advanced X-ray and radio telescopes in existence: the Chandara X-ray Observatory and the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) from NASA and the Australia Telescope Compact Array (ATCA).

Slavko Bodganov, an associate research scientist and co-author of the paper, said that the combination of the unrivaled capabilities of these telescopes led to the discovery of the unusual cosmic pair that sits in a star cluster about 14,800 light-years away.

The binary star system called X9 is not new to astronomers. In fact, this particular one was discovered back in 1989, but it was only recently that scientists finally figured out what happened.

Researcher Arash Bahramian shared that for so long, scientists believed that the X9 is made up of a white dwarf pulling "matter from a low mass Sun-like star." However, in 2015, one of the objects was found to be a black hole. The proximity of the white star to the said black hole rips off matter from the star surface and accumulates in a disk before it spirals past the black hole horizon.

The white star will unlikely be devoured in its entirety by the black hole. But scientists do not know what its fate will be at this point.

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. More information is available in the research draft, which is available on Arxiv.org before official publication.

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