Black Holes Evolve As They Devour Stellar Matter

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A team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) reported that as the black holes consume more star matter, its corona contracts from 100 to 10 kilometers in just over a month. The scientists from the MIT observed the evolution of a black hole dubbed a MAXI J1820 + 070, as it devours stellar material.

On March 11th, 2018, an instrument aboard the International Space Station (ISS) detected an explosion of X-ray light, six times brighter than the Crab Nebula, nearly 10,000 light years away from Earth. The researchers determined that the source was a black hole trapped in the middle of a blast, an extreme phase in which a black hole can throw X-ray radiations while devouring the gas and dust from a nearby star.

Now, astronomers at MIT and other institutions detected the “echoes” within the burst of X-ray emissions, which they think could be a clue to how black holes evolve as they absorb star matter.

Black Holes Evolve As They Devour Stellar Matter

In the study published today in Nature magazine, the MIT scientists reported evidence that as the black holes consume star matter, the halo of electrons that surrounds them contracts from 100 to 10 kilometers in a little more than a month. That was the first evidence that the black holes’ coronas shrink when these mysterious objects devour stellar material.

“It’s the first time we’ve seen this kind of evidence that the corona is shrinking during this particular phase of the evolution of the blast,” said Jack Steiner, a scientist at MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research. “The corona is still mysterious. But now we have evidence that what is evolving in the system is the structure of the corona itself,” he added.

The findings provide scientists with new evidence about a crucial phase in the black holes evolution, known as black-hole transient, the transition to a soft, low-energy state.