NICER Mission Maps a New Black Hole Called J1820

NICER Mission Maps a New Black Hole Called J1820

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NICER found this massive black hole (10 times the mass of the Sun) by detecting the X-rays emitting from it as it consumed material from a companion star. The name given to this newly-discovered black hole is MAXI J1820+070 while it is commonly known as J1820. The light echoes formed by these X-rays reflected off the swirling gas around the black hole, which showed the changes in the size and shape of the environment. Erin Kara, an Astrophysicist from the University of Maryland who presented these findings at the 233rd meeting of the American Astronomical Society, referred to all that by saying,

“NICER has allowed us to measure light echoes closer to a stellar-mass black hole than ever before. Previously, these light echoes off the inner accretion disk were only seen in supermassive black holes, which are millions to billions of solar masses and undergo changes slowly. Stellar black holes like J1820 have much lower masses and evolve much faster, so we can see changes play out on human timescales.”

History of J1820

J1820 is around 10,000 light-years away from us and is located towards the constellation Leo. The Gaia Mission of the European Space Agency (ESA) identified the companion star in the system. Scientists had absolutely no idea about the existence of this black hole until March 2018. On the 11th of March, the Monitor of All-Sky X-ray Image (MAXI) of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency spotted a huge outburst of X-rays. Consequently, J1820 turned into one of the brightest sources of X-rays in the sky. NICER was quick to observe this extraordinary transition and continues to follow the fading tail of the eruption. Zaven Arzoumanian, the Co-author of the paper who serves as a Science Lead for the NICER mission, talked about that in the following words:

“NICER was designed to be sensitive enough to study faint, incredibly dense objects called neutron stars. We’re pleased at how useful it’s also proven in studying these very X-ray-bright stellar-mass black holes.”

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