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NASA Photographs Huge Rings of Light Surrounding a Black Hole

NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory have captured an image that shows huge rings around a black hole. It’s a composite that shows the ring-encircled black hole in X-rays, infrared and visible light.

Image Credit X-ray: NASA/CXC/U.Wisc-Madison/S. Heinz et al.; Optical/IR: Pan-STARR

The black hole in the image is a binary system called V404 Cygni. It is located 7,800 light-years away. It actively pulls material away from a companion star into a disk around the invisible object.

The rings around the black hole are believed to be generated by light echoes when a burst of X-rays from the black hole system bounced off of dust clouds between V404 Cygni and Earth. They reveal information about the dust located in our galaxy. These rings are not visible in light: Astronomers saw them in x-ray images.

“The black hole is actively pulling material away from a companion star — with about half the mass of the Sun — into a disk around the invisible object. This material glows in X-rays, so astronomers refer to these systems as ‘X-ray binaries,'” NASA says.

The rings seen in the photo above depict the X-rays that are bouncing off the dust in that galaxy that are scattering around the black hole in a halo pattern. As explained by an astronomer on Reddit, the best way to understand this is to compare it to the same way that a halo might form around the sun due to ice crystals in the sky. The reason the halo is visible is because there is a somewhat uniform cloud of gas and dust in between the black hole and the observatories used to capture the image.

The image is an excellent example of how there is a lot of structure and activity in the universe that human eyes can’t see. Not only fabulous to look at, but the image also offers information about the black hole, the companion star, and the dust clouds.

Image Credits: X-ray: NASA/CXC/U.Wisc-Madison/S. Heinz et al.; Optical/IR: Pan-STARR

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