SINCE THE 1980s, astronomers have known about a mysterious class of objects that they call “ultraluminous X-ray sources,” or ULXs. They named them this because these objects give off more X-rays than most other binary star systems where black holes or neutron stars are in orbit around a normal companion star.
Recently, scientists using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and optical telescopes spotted a ULX in the spiral galaxy M83 that was acting even more strangely. This ULX increased its output in X-rays by 3,000 times over the course of several years.
Using clues found in the X-ray and optical data, researchers think this ULX may be a member of a population of black holes that up until now was suspected to exist but had not been confirmed.
These black holes, which are the smaller stellar-mass black holes (ones that form from the collapse of a giant star), are older and more active than previously thought.
Video courtesy NASA / CXC. Image close-ups – X-ray, NASA / CXC / Curtin University / R. Soria et al.; optical, NASA / STScI / Middlebury College / F. Winkler et al.
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