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RXTE Detects 'Heartbeat' Of Smallest Black Hole Candidate

Data from NASA's Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer (RXTE) satellite has identified a candidate for the smallest-known black hole. The evidence comes from a specific type of X-ray pattern -- nicknamed a "heartbeat" because of its resemblance to an electrocardiogram -- that until now has been recorded in only one other black hole system.

Named IGR J17091-3624 after the astronomical coordinates of its sky position, the binary system pairs a normal star with a black hole that may weigh less than three times the sun's mass, near the theoretical boundary where black-hole status first becomes possible. Flare-ups occur when gas from the normal star streams toward the black hole and forms a disk around it. Friction within the disk heats the gas to millions of degrees, which is hot enough to radiate X-rays.

The record-holder for ubiquitous X-ray variability is another black hole binary named GRS 1915+105. This system is unique in displaying more than a dozen highly structured patterns -- typically lasting between seconds and hours -- that scientists distinguish by Greek-letter names. Seven of these patterns are now seen in IGR J17091, including the so-called rho-class oscillations that astronomers describe them as the "heartbeat" of black hole systems.

It's thought that strong magnetic fields near the black hole's event horizon eject some of the gas into dual, oppositely directed jets that blast outward at nearly the speed of light. The peak of its heartbeat emission corresponds to the emergence of the jet. Changes in the X-ray spectrum observed by RXTE during each beat in GRS 1915 reveal that the innermost region of the disk emits enough radiation to push back the gas, creating a strong outward wind that staunches the inward flow, briefly starving the black hole and shutting down the jet. This corresponds to the faintest emission. Eventually the inner disk gets so bright and so hot that it essentially disintegrates and plunges toward the black hole, re-establishing the jet and beginning the cycle anew.

In GRS 1915+105, which at 14 solar masses is by for the more massive of the two, this cycle can take as little as 40 seconds. In IGR J17091, the emission can be 20 times fainter than GRS 1915, and the heartbeat cycle can occur up to eight times faster.

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Another multimedia item related to this story:
     Black Hole Pulse Animation (id 10876)
More information on this topic available at:
http://www.nasa.gov/topics/universe/features/black-hole-heartbeat.html

This animation compares the X-ray 'heartbeats' of GRS 1915 and IGR J17091, two black holes that ingest gas from companion stars. GRS 1915 has nearly five times the mass of IGR J17091, which at three solar masses may be the smallest black hole known. A fly-through relates the heartbeats to hypothesized changes in the black hole's jet and disk.    This animation compares the X-ray 'heartbeats' of GRS 1915 and IGR J17091, two black holes that ingest gas from companion stars. GRS 1915 has nearly five times the mass of IGR J17091, which at three solar masses may be the smallest black hole known. A fly-through relates the heartbeats to hypothesized changes in the black hole's jet and disk.

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Duration: 1.5 minutes
Available formats:
  1280x720 (59.94 fps) QT         1 GB
  1280x720 (59.94 fps) QT         313 MB
  960x720 (29.97 fps) MPEG-4   54 MB
  1280x720 (29.97 fps) QT         52 MB
  1280x720 (30 fps) QT         40 MB
  1280x720 (29.97 fps) WMV         36 MB
  1280x720 (59.94 fps) QT         22 MB
  1280x720 (29.97 fps) MPEG-4   21 MB
  640x360 (29.97 fps) MPEG-4   18 MB
  320x180 (29.97 fps) MPEG-4   6 MB
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Print resolution version of still from video    Print resolution version of still from video

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  3000 x 1688     TIFF     24 MB
  3000 x 1688     PNG         4 MB
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Artist's rendering showing the black hole and its accretion disk before the jet emerges.    Artist's rendering showing the black hole and its accretion disk before the jet emerges.

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  1280 x 720       JPEG   140 KB


Artist's rendering showing the jet fully established.    Artist's rendering showing the jet fully established.

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  1280 x 720       TIFF       1 MB
  1280 x 720       JPEG   150 KB


Artist's rendering showing the onset of the disk wind, which shuts down the jet.    Artist's rendering showing the onset of the disk wind, which shuts down the jet.

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  1280 x 720       TIFF       2 MB
  1280 x 720       JPEG   201 KB


Artist's rendering showing the disk wind fully established.    Artist's rendering showing the disk wind fully established.

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  1280 x 720       JPEG   199 KB


Video with captions translated into Dutch.    Video with captions translated into Dutch.
Duration: 1.5 minutes
Available formats:
  1280x720 (59.94 fps) QT         1 GB
  1280x720 (59.94 fps) QT         313 MB
  960x720 (29.97 fps) MPEG-4   54 MB
  1280x720 (29.97 fps) QT         52 MB
  1280x720 (30 fps) QT         40 MB
  1280x720 (59.94 fps) QT         21 MB
  640x360 (29.97 fps) MPEG-4   18 MB
  320x180 (29.97 fps) MPEG-4   6 MB
  1280x720 (29.97 fps) MPEG-4   21 MB
  1280x720   JPEG         703 KB
  960x540 (29.97 fps) WEBM         14 MB
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Video with captions translated into Italian.    Video with captions translated into Italian.
Duration: 1.5 minutes
Available formats:
  1280x720 (59.94 fps) QT         1 GB
  1280x720 (59.94 fps) QT         313 MB
  960x720 (29.97 fps) MPEG-4   54 MB
  1280x720 (29.97 fps) QT         52 MB
  1280x720 (30 fps) QT         40 MB
  1280x720 (59.94 fps) QT         21 MB
  1280x720 (29.97 fps) MPEG-4   21 MB
  640x360 (29.97 fps) MPEG-4   18 MB
  320x180 (29.97 fps) MPEG-4   6 MB
  1280x720   JPEG         703 KB
  960x540 (29.97 fps) WEBM         14 MB
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Video with captions translated into Spanish.    Video with captions translated into Spanish.
Duration: 1.5 minutes
Available formats:
  1280x720 (59.94 fps) QT         1 GB
  1280x720 (59.94 fps) QT         313 MB
  960x720 (29.97 fps) MPEG-4   54 MB
  1280x720 (29.97 fps) QT         52 MB
  1280x720 (30 fps) QT         40 MB
  1280x720 (59.94 fps) QT         22 MB
  1280x720 (29.97 fps) MPEG-4   21 MB
  640x360 (29.97 fps) MPEG-4   18 MB
  320x180 (29.97 fps) MPEG-4   6 MB
  1280x720   JPEG         703 KB
  960x540 (29.97 fps) WEBM         14 MB
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Short URL to This Page:http://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/goto?10875
Animation Number:10875
Completed:2011-11-16
Animators:Walt Feimer (HTSI) (Lead)
 Tyler Chase (UMBC)
Video Editor:Scott Wiessinger (USRA)
Producer:Scott Wiessinger (USRA)
Writer:Francis Reddy (Syneren Technologies)
Series:Narrated Movies
Goddard TV Tape:G2011-124 -- Black Hole Heartbeat
Please give credit for this item to:
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center/CI Lab
 
Keywords:
SVS >> HDTV
SVS >> Music
SVS >> Satellite
SVS >> X-ray
SVS >> Black Hole
SVS >> Astrophysics
SVS >> Edited Feature
SVS >> Space
SVS >> Binary Star
SVS >> Star
SVS >> Space Science
SVS >> RXTE
 
 


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Many of our multimedia items use the GCMD keywords. These keywords can be found on the Internet with the following citation:
Olsen, L.M., G. Major, K. Shein, J. Scialdone, S. Ritz, T. Stevens, M. Morahan, A. Aleman, R. Vogel, S. Leicester, H. Weir, M. Meaux, S. Grebas, C.Solomon, M. Holland, T. Northcutt, R. A. Restrepo, R. Bilodeau, 2013. NASA/Global Change Master Directory (GCMD) Earth Science Keywords. Version 8.0.0.0.0

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