Illustration credit: NASA / CXC / M.Weiss.
On the left, an optical image from the Digitized Sky Survey shows Cygnus X-1, outlined in a red box. Cygnus X-1 is located near large active regions of star formation in the Milky Way, as seen in this image that spans some 700 light years across. An artist's illustration on the right depicts what astronomers think is happening within the Cygnus X-1 system. Cygnus X-1 is a so-called stellar-mass black hole, a class of black holes that comes from the collapse of a massive star. New studies with data from Chandra and several other telescopes have determined the black hole's spin, mass, and distance with unprecedented accuracy.
“They had discovered one could grow as hungry for light as for food.” -Stephen King
Black holes are an endlessly fascinating topic to learn and speculate about. We’ve talked about the largest ones in the Universe, but have you ever wondered about the other side of that coin: what about the smallest?
Illustration credit: NASA/CXC/M.Weiss, via http://chandra.harvard.edu/photo/2012/igr/.
As it turns out, although there’s one main major way to create black holes, it isn’t the only one. A number of theoretical options ought to make it possible to have a black hole that’s even smaller than the smallest one we’ve ever discovered, and some of them really ought to be out there! We just need to go and find them.
Image credit: NASA / Albert Einstein Institute / Zuse Institute Berlin / M. Koppitz and L. Rezzolla.
Go read the whole, fascinating story!