Cygnus X-1

Friday, January 23, 2009

Cygnus X-1 is a well known galactic X-ray source in the constellation Cygnus. It was discovered in 1964 during a rocket flight and is one of the strongest X-ray sources seen from Earth, producing a peak X-ray flux of 2.3×10−23 Wm−2Hz-1. Cygnus X-1 was the first X-ray source widely accepted to be a black hole candidate and it remains among the most studied astronomical objects in its class. It is estimated to have a mass about 8.7 times the mass of the Sun and has been shown to be too compact to be any known kind of normal star or other likely object besides a black hole. If so, the radius of its event horizon is probably about 26 km.

Cygnus X-1 belongs to a high-mass X-ray binary system about 6000 light years from the Sun that includes a blue supergiant variable star designated HDE 226868 which it orbits at about 0.2 AU, or 20% of the distance from the Earth to the Sun. A stellar wind from the star provides material for an accretion disk around the X-ray source. Matter in the inner disk is heated to millions of kelvin (K), generating the observed X-rays.