Even after centuries of close observation, the cosmos still perplex us. We know more about outer space than we do our own oceans, and yet we’ve still barely tapped the true potential of the vast mysteries that outer space holds. One of the largest complexities stumping astronomers has been the black hole. Although we’ve been able to observe black holes for quite some time, there is still much more to learn. A recent astronomic event could be exactly what we needed in order to find out more about these deep, dark voids.
So, what event occured that captured the attention of astronomers? A black hole, nicknamed J1820, tens-of-thousands of light years away from Earth is “eating” another star. Considered a stellar-mass black hole, the gargantuan hole is roughly ten times larger than our sun. In order to get a closer shot of the event, NASA utilized its Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) in order to really analyze just what was going on.
With the help of NICER, NASA astronomers were able to witness the light echoes (X-ray light being deflected away from J1820) in all of their glory. These light echoes also allowed astronomers to determine the black hole’s changing size and shape. And what they came to realize was rather surprising: the black hole wasn’t growing in size; it was shrinking. More specifically, the astronomers determined that the black hole’s corona had shrunk a whopping 66 miles in diameter.
When asked why this was so interesting, MIT astrophysicist Jack Steiner, said, “This is the first time that we’ve seen this kind of evidence that it’s the corona shrinking during this particular phase of outburst evolution.”
Unfortunately, the team that observed the event still doesn’t fully know why it occurred, at least at the time of this writing. There are hypotheses, but they are just that; no concrete answers yet. As technology advances we will be able to gain an even deeper understanding of outer space from our studies. I’m very excited about new discoveries such as these. I will continue to update you all when more information becomes available.