Erupting black hole marks the stunning bull’s eye light show

10 Jul 2015

Astronomers have been treated to something equivalent only to a fireworks show, after capturing images of a black hole erupting, creating what looks like a bullseye of cosmic radiation.

This latest black hole outburst was spotted by a team from the University of Leicester in the UK, who had trained NASA’s X-ray telescope, Swift, on the distant V404 Cygni system and had spotted the beginnings of a rather large light show.

This marks the first time in 26 years that this particular black hole, located 8,000 light-years away from Earth, has experienced one of its eruptions.

Since the team’s discovery, astronomers around the world have been turning their telescopes on the region, revealing a series of concentric rings which appear to be extending to a distance of about one-third the size of a full moon.

It is believed that the beautiful red rings that have been captured by the Swift telescope are the result of an X-ray light echo effect, which is reflected back to us thanks to surrounding cosmic dust.

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Because it takes longer to reflect back to us, it creates this time-delayed echo, giving it the distinctive bullseye-look.

“The flexible planning of Swift observations has given us the best dust-scattered X-ray ring images ever seen,” Andrew Beardmore, lead on the research project in the UK, said. “With these observations, we can make a detailed study of the normally invisible interstellar dust in the direction of this black hole.”

The v404 Cygni system consists solely of a sun-like star which orbits the black hole.

Black hole gif

Gif of erupting black hole via Andrew Beardmore (Univ. of Leicester) and NASA/Swift

Black hole illustration via Shutterstock


Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic