Amazing New X-Ray Image of the Whirlpool Galaxy Shows it is Dotted with Black Holes

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In our Milky Way Galaxy there’s a single X-ray binary. X-ray binary is a structure containing a black hole seizing and heating material from an orbiting partner star, identified as Cygnus X-1. But about 30 million light-years away in the Whirlpool galaxy (also recognized as M51) there are hundreds of X-ray points of light and a full 10 X-ray binaries. Approximately a million seconds of detecting time, with NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, has discovered these points. Roy Kilgard, from Wesleyan University, at a talk organized at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Boston, said “This is the deepest, high-resolution exposure of the full disk of any spiral galaxy that’s ever been taken in the X-ray. It’s a remarkably rich data set.”
Credit X-ray: NASA/CXC/Wesleyan Univ./R.Kilgard, et al; Optical: NASA/STScI

In the image, there are 450 X-ray points of light, 10 of which are expected X-ray binaries. The Whilpool galaxy is supposed to have so many X-ray binaries as it’s in the course of colliding with a smaller adjoining galaxy.

This interface causes waves of star creation, producing new stars at a rate seven times quicker than the Milky Way and supernova deaths at a rate 10-100 times faster. The more-massive stars basically race through their evolution in a few million years and then breakdown to form neutron stars or black holes rapidly. Kilgard said “In this image, there’s a very strong correlation between the fuzzy purple stuff, which is hot gas in the X-ray, and the fuzzy red stuff, which is hydrogen gas in the optical. Both of these are tracing the star formation very actively. You can see it really enhanced in the northern arm that approaches the companion galaxy.” Eight of the 10 X-ray binaries are sited near to star forming areas. Chandra is providing astrophysicists with a detailed look at a class of things that has only one example in the Milky Way.

Kilgard added “We’re catching them at a short window in their evolutionary cycle. The massive star that formed the black hole has died, and the massive star that is accreting material onto the black hole has not yet died. The window at which these objects are X-ray bright is really short. It’s maybe only tens of thousands of years.”

For information visit Chandra website.

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