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Tiny Star Discovered Orbiting Near Black Hole, Closer Than Any Other

Mar 14, 2017 11:48 AM EDT
Chandra Images Allow Scientists To Study Black Holes Bette
A rare binary system was discovered where a tiny star orbits a black hole rapidly. Researchers believe that the star is safe for now but will eventually succumb to oblivion.
(Photo : NASA/Getty Images)

A star located 14,800 light-years away was discovered orbiting a black hole closer that any other identified star. The star orbits the black hole once every 28 minutes at about 2.5 times the distance between Earth and the moon.

This suggests that the star moves rapidly. Its speed could be at 3.7 million miles in less than 30 minutes -- more than 100 times the Earth's speed as it orbits around the Sun.

Researchers from the Michigan State University and the University of Alberta conducted a study using the Chandra X-ray Observatory, the Australia Telescope Compact Array (ATCA) and NASA's NuStar space telescope to make the discovery. Using the data from various sources, X-ray fluctuations were identified. The black hole and white dwarf binary system is called X9.

The binary system called X9 is located on the edge of 47 Tucanae galaxy. More information about the rare binary system will be available on the Royal Astronomical Society as the study was accepted for publishing.

"For a long time astronomers thought that black holes were rare or totally absent in globular star clusters," Jay Strader, MSU astronomer and co-author of the paper, said in a press release. "The discovery is additional evidence that, rather than being one of the worst places to look for black homes, globular clusters might be one of the best."

The researchers thought the binary star system is composed of two stars. However, further investigations revealed that the other one is a black hole harvesting material from the white dwarf star.

"This white dwarf is so close to the black hole that materials is being pulled away from the star and dumped onto a disk of matter around the black hole before falling in," Arash Bahramian, lead author of the study said in a statement. "Luckily for this star, we don't think it will follow this path into oblivion, but instead will stay in orbit."

Black holes rip stars apart. But the case of X9 is different as researchers say that the star will remain safe for the mean time.

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