(CNN) — Millions of elusive black holes lurk in plain sight throughout the Milky Way galaxy, only occasionally revealing their presence through bursts of X-ray light when they feed on stars.
Astronomers have been able to pinpoint the locations of eight rare pairs of black holes and the stars that orbit them, thanks to the X-ray echoes they emit. Previously, there were only two known pairs emitting X-ray echoes in our galaxy.
black hole binaries they occur when these celestial phenomena are orbited by a star, which they sometimes use to draw gas and dust for snacks.
The echoes have been converted into sound waves that can keep you awake at night.
The findings of the study, published Monday in The Astrophysical Journal, could help scientists understand how black holes evolve.
Anatomy of a bursting black hole
The research team developed an automated tool called the “Reverberation Machine” to search for echoes of black hole binaries in satellite data.
During their study, the researchers used the reverberation machine to examine data collected by NASA’s X-ray telescope called the Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer, or NICER, which is part of the International Space Station.
“We see new reverberation signals in eight sources,” said the study’s first author, Jingyi Wang, a graduate student. at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he said in a statement. “Black holes range in mass from five to 15 times the mass of the sun, and all are in binary systems with normal, low-mass, sun-like stars.”
After collecting all eight echoes, the researchers compared them to see how a black hole changes when it releases a burst of X-rays. A similar picture emerged for all eight binary systems.
When black holes pull material from an orbiting star, they can launch bright “jets” of particles that hurtle into space at nearly the speed of light. The research team noted that during this process, the black hole will release a final high-energy flash before transitioning to a low-energy state.
When that last burst happens, it could mean that the black hole’s highly energetic plasma ring (or corona) is releasing energized particles before it disappears.
Astronomers can apply this finding to the largest supermassive black holes, which function as “engines” at the centers of galaxies and can fire out particles that can shape galaxy formation.
“The role of black holes in the evolution of galaxies is an outstanding question in modern astrophysics,” study author Erin Kara, an assistant professor of physics at MIT, said in a statement.
“Interestingly, these black hole binaries appear to be ‘mini’ supermassive black holes, and so by understanding the outbursts in these small nearby systems, we can understand how similar outbursts in supermassive black holes affect the galaxies in which they live.” reside”.
Convert X-ray echoes to sound
The echoes from these X-ray emissions can help astronomers map where black holes are located. It’s not unlike the echolocation bats use to navigate. Bats emit calls that bounce off obstacles and return as an echo, and the duration of the echo return helps bats determine the distance of objects.
Echoes from black holes are created by two types of X-ray light released by the corona, and astronomers can use the amount of time it takes for the telescope to detect the two types to track how a black hole changes as it engulfs star stuff.
Echoes from black holes aren’t real sounds that we can hear unaided, so Kara collaborated with Kyle Keane, a professor in the department of materials science and engineering at MIT., and Ian Condry, professor in the department of anthropology at MIT, to convert them into sound waves.
The team tracked the changes in the X-ray echoes, determined the time lapses during the transition stages, and tracked the common points in the evolution of each black hole outburst.
The result looks like something out of a 1950s sci-fi movie.
“We are at the beginning of being able to use these light echoes to reconstruct the closest environments to the black hole,” Kara said. “We have now shown that these echoes are commonly observed, and we can probe the connections between a black hole’s disk, jet, and corona in a new way.”
And if you want to hear more spooky black hole sounds, NASA has just released a remix of some black hole sonifications for your listening pleasure.
The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner company. All rights reserved.