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Cygnus X-1: NASA's Chandra Adds to Black Hole Birth Announcement
Cygnus X-1

  • Cygnus X-1 is a black hole about 15 times the mass of the Sun in orbit with a massive blue companion star.

  • Astronomers used several telescopes including Chandra to study Cygnus X-1.

  • The combined data have revealed the spin, mass, and distance of this black hole more precisely than ever before.

  • Stephen Hawking lost a bet — originally placed in 1974 — that Cygnus X-1 did not contain a black hole.

On the left, an optical image from the Digitized Sky Survey shows Cygnus X-1, outlined in a red box. Cygnus X-1 is located near large active regions of star formation in the Milky Way, as seen in this image that spans some 700 light years across. An artist's illustration on the right depicts what astronomers think is happening within the Cygnus X-1 system. Cygnus X-1 is a so-called stellar-mass black hole, a class of black holes that comes from the collapse of a massive star. The black hole pulls material from a massive, blue companion star toward it. This material forms a disk (shown in red and orange) that rotates around the black hole before falling into it or being redirected away from the black hole in the form of powerful jets.

A trio of papers with data from radio, optical and X-ray telescopes, including NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, has revealed new details about the birth of this famous black hole that took place millions of years ago. Using X-ray data from Chandra, the Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer, and the Advanced Satellite for Cosmology and Astrophysics, scientists were able to determine the spin of Cygnus X-1 with unprecedented accuracy, showing that the black hole is spinning at very close to its maximum rate. Its event horizon — the point of no return for material falling towards a black hole — is spinning around more than 800 times a second.

Chandra X-ray of Cygnus X-1.

Using optical observations of the companion star and its motion around its unseen companion, the team also made the most precise determination ever for the mass of Cygnus X-1, of 14.8 times the mass of the Sun. It was likely to have been almost this massive at birth, because of lack of time for it to grow appreciably.

The researchers also announced that they have made the most accurate distance estimate yet of Cygnus X-1 using the National Radio Observatory's Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA). The new distance is about 6,070 light years from Earth. This accurate distance was a crucial ingredient for making the precise mass and spin determinations.

Fast Facts for Cygnus X-1:
Credit  Optical: DSS; Illustration: NASA/CXC/M.Weiss
Release Date  November 17, 2011
Scale  Wide field optical image is 4x5 degrees (424x530 light years)
Category  Black Holes
Coordinates (J2000)  RA 19h 58m 21.70s | Dec +35° 12´ 05.80"
Constellation  Cygnus
Instrument  ACIS
References arXiv:1106.3690 arXiv:1106.3689 arXiv:1106.3688
Color Code  Intensity Map
Distance Estimate  About 6070 light years
distance arrow
Visitor Comments (21)

I agree with Jay
It is astounding the amount of undiscovered knowledge lays across the multiverse.
Just looking at the map of Cygnus tonight made me think WOW. If those are all individual stars or planets. Imagine the possibilities of not only life but elements and functions we can only begin to fathom.

Posted by Kay on Tuesday, 02.27.18 @ 05:39am

Creative post - I Appreciate the facts. Does someone know where my assistant might be able to get a hold of a template Copyright Form VA form to type on?

Posted by teresa montano on Tuesday, 06.28.16 @ 05:56am

A note to John above who posted the distance. In the sort of notation that it is written in, perhaps it got confused. Cygnus X-1 is at a distance of six thousand and seventy light years, 6070.0ly. The picture frame is 424 x 530 ly in extent. They are really enormous numbers. And this is just in our galaxy.

Posted by Crano Blythe on Monday, 08.3.15 @ 22:31pm

I understand that although black holes are voracious in their local sphere, their field of gravitational influence is not a threat to distances such as that of our planet six thousand light years. However, if their jet were aimed in our direction, we might suffer from that.
Jim Carlisle

Posted by Jim Carlisle on Sunday, 01.18.15 @ 18:53pm

How far is the companion star from Cygnus X-1?

Posted by Gail MacVicar on Sunday, 10.20.13 @ 04:50am

Great! beyond compare

Posted by Dr Sunil Parashar on Monday, 08.26.13 @ 15:13pm

IF I could turn back the time or be reborn again I would become an Astrophysicist instead of an Engineer...All I could say is that Astrophysicist are lucky and I love them.

Posted by Geovani Luna on Saturday, 06.15.13 @ 00:48am

I love Cygnus X-1 picture! So fantasy...

Posted by Millinia Chelengga on Wednesday, 08.8.12 @ 05:06am

Wow. If one of those jets hit us it would cause global devastation and enormous solar flares. That a fact.

Posted by chris on Wednesday, 04.18.12 @ 09:46am

I had read that Cygnus X-1 ejected giant X-ray beams from it's poles.

And that these X-ray beams can shoot across the galaxy effecting other celestial bodies.

I wonder if these X-ray beams directed toward our sun can can cause solar flares?

Posted by Dan on Friday, 03.16.12 @ 10:54am

No point investing is anything else, but this vast expanse of knowledge and possibilities. Very humbling experience to view Chandra's images and the realities behind such heavenly bodies. We are insignificant in such a vast expanse of emptiness, but Chandra makes our existence significant.

My respects to Chandra and always ready to provide whatever help needed.

Posted by amar_almora on Saturday, 03.3.12 @ 04:05am

Wow keep up the good work what a great team of people you are to get these pitures

Posted by Anthony Barrett on Sunday, 12.18.11 @ 18:38pm

We know so less about it.Why we dont invest more in this kind of resarch....?
Seems we are more busy to destroy our planet which is so fagile!
I would like to know more about it

Posted by Lucian on Wednesday, 12.7.11 @ 01:22am

This info re black holes is terrific! Please write more on the black hole in center of our galaxy, & if it will affect the Sun....Mahalo! (Means thank you in Hawaiian), since I live here on the western flanks of Mauna Kea, near our largest & newest observatories.. on the great Big Island.

Posted by maji foster on Wednesday, 11.30.11 @ 17:08pm

Wow, thank you for sharing.

Posted by Debra Ramey on Wednesday, 11.30.11 @ 05:58am

makes one wonder doesn't it!?

Posted by ros on Tuesday, 11.29.11 @ 15:55pm

How far away is this? I know it is 60.070 light years away, but how far is that?

Posted by john on Tuesday, 11.29.11 @ 09:57am

I always wanted to be an astronomer, but became a doctor. Thank you for sharing this new development in the cosmos. Dale

Posted by Dale Calkin on Friday, 11.18.11 @ 17:58pm

Isn't this scary close to us?

Posted by Laurent Chauvin on Friday, 11.18.11 @ 17:06pm

wow!!! give me more like this.

Posted by alan soden on Friday, 11.18.11 @ 16:41pm

I am stunned by what we don't know and how little we know about universe

Posted by Jay on Friday, 11.18.11 @ 01:53am

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