NASA maps black hole 10 times larger than our sun

NASA's new NICER mission is studying light echoes surrounding a black hole.

    2019/02/04

NSFW    WASHINGTON — NASA's newest project is on a mission to understand black holes.

Black holes are the giant light-sucking space monsters that usually play the villain in sci-fi movies. But they are still widely misunderstood.

NASA is hoping to change that with their new NICER mission.

Currently, researchers are studying light echoes surrounding a black hole 10,000 light years away from Earth. NASA reports that the stellar-mass black hole is called MAXI J1820+070, or J1820, and it's currently absorbing material from a nearby star. The black hole is 10 times larger than our sun.

J1820 hadn't been in NASA's radar until May 2018, when Japan's Aerospace Exploration Agency's Monitor of All-sky X-ray Image investigation detected an outburst of light emanating from the black hole.

J1820's sudden outburst allowed NASA to examine how the corona and disk of the black hole changes as it consumes material from the neighboring star.

Using a tool called the Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer, or NICER, researchers were able to observe "light echoes" of x-ray light bouncing off the swirling gas near J1820 that was changing the black hole's environment size and shape.

Let us explain where these x-ray lights come from and why they matter.

Black holes can act like giant funnels, absorbing materials from nearby stars into a ring called an accretion disk, which is the gas and materials surrounding black holes.

The accretion disc is incredibly hot. Its heat allows it to create x-rays in the areas closer to the black hole. Fluctuations and movement in the disc can cause outbursts.

The corona is an even hotter region of subatomic particles that emit higher-energy x-rays.

Since J1820's outburst, researchers found another anomaly. Its corona had shrunk from 160 kilometers to just 16 kilometers. Although the origin of the x-ray lights can be explained, the cause of the sudden outburst and fluctuations still remain a mystery.

Using NICER, NASA can observe these lights and study them to understand why black holes behave the way they do.
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