From ESA: “Black hole-star pair orbiting at dizzying speed”

ESA Planck
XMM Newton


19 March 2013

‘ESA’s XMM-Newton space telescope has helped to identify a star and a black hole that orbit each other at the dizzying rate of once every 2.4 hours, smashing the previous record by nearly an hour.

The black hole in this compact pairing, known as MAXI J1659-152, is at least three times more massive than the Sun, while its red dwarf companion star has a mass only 20% that of the Sun. The pair is separated by roughly a million kilometres.

The duo were discovered on 25 September 2010 by NASA’s Swift space telescope and were initially thought to be a gamma-ray burst. Later that day, Japan’s MAXI telescope on the International Space Station found a bright X-ray source at the same place.

More observations from ground and space telescopes, including XMM-Newton, revealed that the X-rays come from a black hole feeding off material ripped from a tiny companion.

Several regularly-spaced dips in the emission were seen in an uninterrupted 14.5 hour observation with XMM-Newton, caused by the uneven rim of the black hole’s accretion disc briefly obscuring the X-rays as the system rotates, its disc almost edge-on along XMM-Newton’s line of sight.

From these dips, an orbital period of just 2.4 hours was measured, setting a new record for black hole X-ray binary systems. The previous record-holder, Swift J1753.5–0127, has a period of 3.2 hours.

The European Space Agency (ESA), established in 1975, is an intergovernmental organization dedicated to the exploration of space, currently with 19 member states. Headquartered in Paris, ESA has a staff of more than 2,000. ESA’s space flight program includes human spaceflight, mainly through the participation in the International Space Station program, the launch and operations of unmanned exploration missions to other planets and the Moon, Earth observation, science, telecommunication as well as maintaining a major spaceport, the Guiana Space Centre at Kourou, French Guiana, and designing launch vehicles. ESA science missions are based at ESTEC in Noordwijk, Netherlands, Earth Observation missions at ESRIN in Frascati, Italy, ESA Mission Control (ESOC) is in Darmstadt, Germany, the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) that trains astronauts for future missions is situated in Cologne, Germany, and the European Space Astronomy Centre is located in Villanueva de la Cañada, Spain.

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