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.
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 illustration via Shutterstock