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Space Science

The Fate of the First Known Black Hole 67

sciencehabit writes "Cygnus X-1 bears its name because it was the first source of x-rays found in the constellation Cygnus. In 1971, astronomers discovered that the x-rays came from the direction of a bright blue star whirling around a mysterious dark object. They speculated that the x-rays were resulting from material being torn away from the bright star and falling onto the dark object, perhaps a black hole. This year, astronomers established that Cygnus X-1 does indeed harbor a black hole, a dead star whose great gravity lets nothing, not even light, escape. Now that result has inspired a forecast for the system's future: The black hole will swallow even more mass from an unfortunate star circling it, then likely dash away on its own when its companion explodes."
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The Fate of the First Known Black Hole

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  • Sagittarius A* (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bcrowell ( 177657 ) on Monday August 08, 2011 @08:59PM (#37028740) Homepage

    You actually don't have to be a complete kook to doubt that solar-mass bodies like Cygnus X-1 are black holes. There are all kinds of other hypothesized objects that they could be, including black stars, gravastars, fuzzballs, quark stars, boson stars, and electroweak stars. These are all long-shots, but they exist in certain reasonably well-motivated physical theories.

    For skeptics, I believe the evidence is stronger that Sagittarius A* is a black hole than that Cygnus X-1 is. Sag A* is the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy. Sag A* has been proved by indirect but very strong evidence [arxiv.org] to have an event horizon, which is essentially the defining characteristic of a black hole. (A singularity without an event horizon would be something different; the big bang singularity is an example of that.) It may become possible in the near future [arxiv.org] to do direct imaging of Sag A*'s event horizon, which would be direct proof that it's a black hole. There are fundamental reasons why we will never be able to do anything like that with any other black hole besides Sag A*, using foreseeable technology.

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