NASA Photographs Huge Rings of Light Surrounding a Black Hole

A spectacular photo of a huge set of rings surrounding a black hole has been captured by the NASA Chandra X-Ray Observatory and Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory.

The photo shows giant rings around a black hole, which is not visible itself since black holes contain no light and are thus not able to be imaged. NASA uses Xray imaging to reveal the location of dust in the Milky Way Galaxy. The photos are similar to those taken in airports and doctor’s offices.

This particular black hole is part of the binary system called V404 Cygni located about 7,800 light-years from Earth.

“The black hole is actively pulling material away from a companion star — with about half the mass of the Sun — into a disk around the invisible object. This material glows in X-rays, so astronomers refer to these systems as ‘X-ray binaries,'” NASA says.

The X-rays bouncing off of the dark matter in this galaxy and creating a halo effect around it are shown in the above photo. As explained by an astronomer on Reddit, the best way to understand this is to compare it to the same way that a halo might form around the sun due to ice crystals in the sky. Because there’s a uniform cloud of dust and gas between the black hole, the observaories that captured the image and the black hole, the halo can be seen.

The black hole is, proportionally, much smaller than the surrounding rings. The mass of the black hole, which is only half of Earth’s Sun mass, isn’t particularly big.

The Chandra Observatory

NASA’s Chandra Observatory was launched on July 23, 1999 and has been the space agency’s flagship for X-ray astronomy. This telescope is specifically designed to detect Xray emission from extremely hot regions in the universe such as exploded stars and clusters galaxies. NASA explains.

Chandra Observatory
Chandra Observatory | Credit: NASA/CXC & J.Vaughan

“Chandra carries four very sensitive mirrors nested inside each other. The energetic X-rays strike the insides of the hollow shells and are focussed onto electronic detectors at the end of the 9. 2-meter (30-foot.) Optical bench. Depending on which detector is used, very detailed images or spectra of the cosmic source can be made and analyzed,” NASA says.

Chandra is in an elliptical orbit that covers more than one third of Earth’s distance from the Moon. Its current location can be calculated through NASA’s Satellite Tracking Tutorial.

Image Credits: X-ray: NASA/CXC/U.Wisc-Madison/S. Heinz et al. ; Optical/IR: Pan-STARR