NASA turns the echo of a black hole into sound

NASA specialists have developed a technique for converting X-ray radiation into sound vibrations. With its help, they “voiced” the echo of the black hole.

The light echo of the black hole V404 Cygni. Source: Andrew Beardmore (Univ. of Leicester) and NASA/Swift

Despite the fact that even light cannot escape beyond the event horizon of black holes, their surroundings are usually very bright objects. This is because active black holes are surrounded by accretion disks. The matter in them is heated to high temperatures and periodically emits bursts of electromagnetic radiation. As you move away from the black hole, these bursts are reflected from the surrounding clouds of gas and dust, just as the rays of light from car headlights are scattered in fog. This leads to the formation of a kind of echo.

A team of researchers from NASA decided to “voice” similar echoes produced by a black hole. They chose the V404 Cygni as their target. This is a stellar-mass black hole located at a distance of 7800 light-years from Earth. Its mass is from 5 to 10 times that of the sun. It actively absorbs the matter of the companion star and is surrounded by an accretion disk.

The data collected by the Chandra and Swift X-ray telescopes were used as a basis. Since researchers know exactly how fast light spreads, and they know the distance to the black hole, they can calculate when the bursts occurred. These data, as well as other information, help astronomers learn more about dust clouds, including their composition and distances to them.

In a video published by NASA, X-ray data from two observatories are converted into sound. When the cursor passes through the light echoes (they are shown in the image as concentric rings), ticking sounds and volume changes appear. They denote the detection of X-rays and brightness variations.

The results of observations of Chandra (blue) are represented by higher tones, and Swift (red) — lower. In addition to X-rays, the recording includes optical data from a digital sky survey, which shows stars in the background. Each star in the optical light causes a musical note. The volume and pitch of the note are determined by the brightness of the star.

Earlier we talked about how the IXPE mission solved the mystery of the blazar jets.

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