Researchers find ‘structure’ in black hole accretion disk

A team of researchers working at the Astrophysical Institute of the Canary Islands has found evidence of a previously unknown structure in the accretion disk of a black hole that is part of an X-ray binary system. The structure, as they describe in their paper published in the journal Science, presents itself with a wave like movement through the disk, moving outward.

Simulation of the X-ray binary system Swift J1357.2-0933. In this view, the dips produced by the vertical structure are maxima. Credit: Gabriel Perez Diaz, Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias (Servicio MultiMedia)


A binary system, is of course, one made of two components—sometimes two stars, others times as with Swift J1357.2, a star and a black hole—the remnant of a star that exploded. In the latter case, the binary is known as an X-ray binary system because the accretion disk that develops between the two occasionally emits X-rays. The accretion disk is a mass of material that has been pulled from the star by the black hole. In this new research, the team has found evidence of a structure on the outer portion of the accretion disk that causes a dimming of the system—one that cannot be explained by the companion stars’ orbit around the system’s center of mass, which in this case, is one of the shortest ever seen, just 2.8 hours. The dimming, the researchers report occurs sometimes as often as every few seconds. Read more

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