Tag Archives: V404 Cygni

A bullseye in space

Cool image time! The science team of the Swift space telescope has released a movie compiled from X-ray images taken of the first outburst from black hole V404 Cygni in 26 years. [link fixed!]

Astronomers say the rings result from an “echo” of X-ray light. The black hole’s flares emit X-rays in all directions. Dust layers reflect some of these X-rays back to us, but the light travels a longer distance and reaches us slightly later than light traveling a more direct path. The time delay creates the light echo, forming rings that expand with time.

Detailed analysis of the expanding rings shows that they all originate from a large flare that occurred on June 26 at 1:40 p.m. EDT. There are multiple rings because there are multiple reflecting dust layers between 4,000 and 7,000 light-years away from us. Regular monitoring of the rings and how they change as the eruption continues will allow astronomers to better understand their nature.

V404 Cygni is located about 8,000 light-years away. Every couple of decades the black hole fires up in an outburst of high-energy light. Its previous eruption ended in 1989.

The animation below the fold is a smaller resolution version of the movie, showing the rings as they expand outward.
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Black hole awakes after 26 years

For the first time since 1989, the black hole in V404 Cygni, a system comprising a black hole and a star, has reawakened, suddenly emitting high energy outbursts beginning on June 15.

First signs of renewed activity in V404 Cygni were spotted by the Burst Alert Telescope on NASA’s Swift satellite, detecting a sudden burst of gamma rays, and then triggering observations with its X-ray telescope. Soon after, MAXI (Monitor of All-sky X-ray Image), part of the Japanese Experiment Module on the International Space Station, observed an X-ray flare from the same patch of the sky.

These first detections triggered a massive campaign of observations from ground-based telescopes and from space-based observatories, to monitor V404 Cygni at many different wavelengths across the electromagnetic spectrum.

The outbursts are probably occurring because the black hole is gobbling up material that has fallen into it.

While the 1989 outburst helped astronomers gain their first understand of the behavior of a black hole in a star system, this outburst will help them understand how such systems evolve and change over time.