Artist impression of a black hole accreting a stellar wind; inset: Hubble and Chandra images of M33 X-7
Credit:Illustration: NASA/CXC/M.Weiss; X-ray: NASA/CXC/CfA/P.Plucinsky et al.; Optical: NASA/STScI/SDSU/J.Orosz et al.

The Heaviest Stellar Hole

How massive can black holes get? Some are millions (or maybe billions) of times more massive than the Sun. These supermassive black holes are actually quite common, lurking as they do at the centers of many (or most) galaxies. There's some debate about the existence of slightly less massive black holes, weighing a few hundred or a thousand solar masses. The best weighed black holes are those in orbit around normal stars, since the orbital motion is directly related to mass. In this stellar mass class, there's a new champ. The inset image above shows a composite image obtained by the Chandra X-ray Observatory in blue, and an optical image by the Hubble Space Telescope. The bright, blue Chandra source is an X-ray source called X-7 in the galaxy M33. Observations by Chandra and by Hubble show that M33 X-7 is a black hole in orbit around a young massive star. A strong stellar wind from the massive star companion falls into the black hole and generates strong X-ray emission. The Chandra and Hubble observations and others constrain the mass of the black hole to be about 16 times the mass of the Sun - a new record for stellar mass black holes. The illustration above shows an artist interpretation of the system - the blue windy star losing material into the massive black hole.

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Page Author: Dr. Michael F. Corcoran
Last modified Friday, 20-Apr-2012 15:20:51 EDT

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