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STS-118: Highlights

The STS-118 crew, including Barbara Morgan, narrates its mission highlights film and answers questions in this post-flight presentation.

 Full presentation
 Mission film

STS-120: Rollout to pad

Space shuttle Discovery rolls out of the Vehicle Assembly Building and travels to launch pad 39A for its STS-120 mission.

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Dawn leaves Earth

NASA's Dawn space probe launches aboard a Delta 2-Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral to explore two worlds in the asteroid belt.

 Full coverage

Dawn: Launch preview

These briefings preview the launch and science objectives of NASA's Dawn asteroid orbiter.

 Launch | Science

ISS crew change preview

The Expedition 15 mission draws to a close aboard the space station and the Expedition 16 launch nears. These two briefings from Sept. 25 cover the upcoming transition between the two missions.

 Exp. 15 recap
 Exp. 16 preview

Discovery moves to VAB

Shuttle Discovery is transported from its hangar to the Vehicle Assembly Building for attachment to the external tank and boosters.

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STS-120: The programs

In advance of shuttle Discovery's STS-120 mission to the station, managers from both programs discuss the flight.

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STS-120: The mission

Discovery's trip to the station will install the Harmony module and move the P6 solar wing truss. The flight directors present a detailed overview of STS-120.

 Part 1 | Part 2

STS-120: Spacewalks

Five spacewalks are planned during Discovery's STS-120 assembly mission to the station. Lead spacewalk officer Dina Contella previews the EVAs.

 Full briefing
 EVA 1 summary
 EVA 2 summary
 EVA 3 summary
 EVA 4 summary
 EVA 5 summary

The Discovery crew

The Discovery astronauts, led by commander Pam Melroy, meet the press in the traditional pre-flight news conference.

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Heaviest stellar black hole found in nearby galaxy
CHANDRA X-RAY CENTER NEWS RELEASE
Posted: October 18, 2007

Astronomers have located an exceptionally massive black hole in orbit around a huge companion star. This result has intriguing implications for the evolution and ultimate fate of massive stars.


Credit: Illustration: NASA/CXC/M.Weiss; X-ray: NASA/CXC/CfA/P.Plucinsky et al.; Optical: NASA/STScI/SDSU/J.Orosz et al.
Download larger image version here

 
The black hole is part of a binary system in M33, a nearby galaxy about 3 million light years from Earth. By combining data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Gemini telescope on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, the mass of the black hole, known as M33 X-7, was determined to be 15.7 times that of the Sun. This makes M33 X-7 the most massive stellar black hole known. A stellar black hole is formed from the collapse of the core of a massive star at the end of its life.

"This discovery raises all sorts of questions about how such a big black hole could have been formed," said Jerome Orosz of San Diego State University, lead author of the paper appearing in the October 18th issue of the journal Nature.

M33 X-7 orbits a companion star that eclipses the black hole every three and a half days. The companion star also has an unusually large mass, 70 times that of the Sun. This makes it the most massive companion star in a binary system containing a black hole.

"This is a huge star that is partnered with a huge black hole," said coauthor Jeffrey McClintock of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass. "Eventually, the companion will also go supernova and then we'll have a pair of black holes."

The properties of the M33 X-7 binary system - a massive black hole in a close orbit around a massive companion star - are difficult to explain using conventional models for the evolution of massive stars. The parent star for the black hole must have had a mass greater than the existing companion in order to have formed a black hole before the companion star.

Such a massive star would have had a radius larger than the present separation between the stars, so the stars must have been brought closer while sharing a common outer atmosphere. This process typically results in a large amount of mass being lost from the system, so much that the parent star should not have been able to form a 15.7 solar-mass black hole.

The black hole's progenitor must have shed gas at a rate about 10 times less than predicted by models before it exploded. If even more massive stars also lose very little material, it could explain the incredibly luminous supernova seen recently as SN 2006gy. The progenitor for SN 2006gy is thought to have been about 150 times the mass of the Sun when it exploded.

"Massive stars can be much less extravagant than people think by hanging onto a lot more of their mass toward the end of their lives," said Orosz. "This can have a big effect on the black holes that these stellar time-bombs make."

Coauthor Wolfgang Pietsch was also the lead author of an article in the Astrophysical Journal that used Chandra observations to report that M33 X-7 is the first black hole in a binary system observed to undergo eclipses. The eclipsing nature enables unusually accurate estimates for the mass of the black hole and its companion.

"Because it's eclipsing and because it has such extreme properties, this black hole is an incredible test-bed for studying astrophysics," said Pietsch.

The length of the eclipse seen by Chandra gives information about the size of the companion. The scale of the companion's motion, as inferred from the Gemini observations, gives information about the mass of the black hole and its companion. Other observed properties of the binary were used to constrain the mass estimates.

NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala., manages the Chandra program for the agency's Science Mission Directorate. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory controls science and flight operations from the Chandra X-ray Center in Cambridge, Mass. Gemini is an international partnership managed by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy under a cooperative agreement with the National Science Foundation.

STS-134 Patch

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The final planned flight of space shuttle Endeavour is symbolized in the official embroidered crew patch for STS-134. Available in our store!
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Final Shuttle Mission Patch

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The crew emblem for the final space shuttle mission is now available in our store. Get this piece of history!
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Apollo Collage
This beautiful one piece set features the Apollo program emblem surrounded by the individual mission logos.
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STS-133 Patch

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The final planned flight of space shuttle Discovery is symbolized in the official embroidered crew patch for STS-133. Available in our store!
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Anniversary Shuttle Patch

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This embroidered patch commemorates the 30th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Program. The design features the space shuttle Columbia's historic maiden flight of April 12, 1981.
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Mercury anniversary

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Celebrate the 50th anniversary of Alan Shephard's historic Mercury mission with this collectors' item, the official commemorative embroidered patch.
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