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Milky Way's black hole is more massive than astronomers thought

Cygnus X-1, discovered in 1964, is one of the closest black holes to Earth
Milky Way's black hole is more massive than astronomers thought
Cygnus X-1, discovered in 1964, is one of the closest black holes to Earth

ITDC INDIA EPRESS/ITDC NEWS Cygnus X-1, the supermassive black hole that rotates at the center of our galaxy and one of the closest to the Earth, is more than 25,000 light-years away.

New observations about the Cygnus X-1, the first black hole ever detected, have led astronomers to question what they know about the Universe's most mysterious objects.

Cygnus X-1 was discovered in 1964 when a pair of Geiger counters were carried on board a sub-orbital rocket launched from New Mexico.

The research, published in the journal Science, shows the system contains the most massive stellar-mass black hole ever detected without the use of gravitational waves.

The object was the focus of a famous scientific wager between physicists Stephen Hawking and Kip Thorne, with Hawking betting in 1974 that it was not a black hole. Hawking conceded the bet in 1990.

In this latest work, an international team of astronomers used the Very Long Baseline Array—a continent-sized radio telescope made up of 10 dishes spread across the United States—together with a clever technique to measure distances in space.

"If we can view the same object from different locations, we can calculate its distance away from us by measuring how far the object appears to move relative to the background," said lead researcher, Professor James Miller-Jones from Curtin University and the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR).

"If you hold your finger out in front of your eyes and view it with one eye at a time, you'll notice your finger appears to jump from one spot to another. It's exactly the same principle."

"Over six days we observed a full orbit of the black hole and used observations taken of the same system with the same telescope array in 2011," Professor Miller-Jones said. "This method and our new measurements show the system is further away than previously thought, with a black hole that's significantly more massive."

Co-author Professor Ilya Mandel from Monash University and the ARC Centre of Excellence in Gravitational Wave Discovery (OzGrav) said the black hole is so massive it's actually challenging how astronomers thought they formed. "Stars lose mass to their surrounding environment through stellar winds that blow away from their surface. But to make a black hole this heavy, we need to dial down the amount of mass that bright stars lose during their lifetimes" he said.

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