23 February 2012
Posted in Our Planet, Our Universe
What's the strongest wind you've been in? 50 mph, 100, mph... how about 20 million mph? That's what researchers at the Chandra X-ray Observatory discovered recently while studying stellar-mass black holes.
Chandra X-ray Observatory is one of the four Great Observatories operated by NASA. It produces images that are 100 times fainter than that of any previous telescope due to the high resolution of the mirrors. The X-ray Observatory was built to allow astronomers to view images to better understand the evolution of the universe and how the structure was formed.
Stellar-mass black holes are formed when a massive star collapses due to gravitational force and can be more than three times the solar mass of our Sun. In recent days the Observatory has observed the fastest winds ever recorded from a stellar-mass black hole. Traveling at three percent of the speed of light, the winds on the surrounding disk recorded an astounding speed of 20 million miles per hour. These record breaking winds are similar to the winds found in disks surrounding supermassive black holes, which can be billions of times larger and more powerful. According to Jon M. Miller, the co-author of The Astrophysical Journal Letters, “It’s a surprise this small black hole is able to muster the wind speeds we typically only see in the giant black holes. In other words, this black hole is performing well above its weight class.”
The astronomers studying this stellar-mass black hole have also learned that the high winds are carrying more material away from the black hole than it is able to capture. These findings will help astronomers better understand black hole behaviors. As Ashley King, lead author of The Astrophysical Journal Letters describes, “Contrary to the popular perception of black holes pulling in all of the material that gets close, we estimate up to 95 percent of the matter in the disk around IGR J17091 is expelled by the wind,”