Astronomy Picture of the Day
APOD: 1997 January 15 Black Hole Signature From Advective Disks
Explanation: What does a black hole look like? If alone, a black hole would indeed appear quite black, but many black hole candidates are part of binary star systems. So how does a black hole binary system look different from a neutron star binary system? The above drawings indicate it is difficult to tell! Recent theoretical work, however, has provided a new way to tell them apart: advective accretion flows (ADAFs). A black hole system so equipped would appear much darker than a similar neutron star system. The difference is caused by the hot gas from the ADAF disk falling through the event horizon of the black hole and disappearing - gas that would have emitted much light were the central object only a neutron star. Recent observations of the soft X-ray transient V404 Cyg has yielded a spectrum much like an ADAF onto a black hole - and perhaps brighter than allowable from an ADAF onto a neutron star.
APOD: 2004 2002 September 8 Too Close to a Black Hole
Explanation: What would you see if you went right up to a black hole? Above are two computer generated images highlighting how strange things would look. On the left is a normal star field containing the constellation Orion. Notice the three stars of nearly equal brightness that make up Orion's Belt. On the right is the same star field but this time with a black hole superposed in the center of the frame. The black hole has such strong gravity that light is noticeably bent towards it - causing some very unusual visual distortions. In the distorted frame, every star in the normal frame has at least two bright images - one on each side of the black hole. In fact, near the black hole, you can see the whole sky - light from every direction is bent around and comes back to you. Black holes are thought to be the densest state of matter, and there is indirect evidence for their presence in stellar binary systems and the centers of globular clusters, galaxies, and quasars.
APOD: 2004 February 24 - X-Rays Indicate Star Ripped Up by Black Hole
Explanation: What could rip a star apart? A black hole. Giant black holes in just the right mass range would pull on the front of a closely passing star much more strongly than on the back. Such a strong tidal force would stretch out a star and likely cause some of the star's gasses to fall into the black hole. The infalling gas has been predicted to emit just the same blast of X-rays that have recently been seen in the center of galaxy RX J1242-11. Above, an artist's illustration depicts the sequence of destruction (assuming that image-distorting gravitational-lens effects of the black hole are somehow turned off). Most of the stellar remains would be flung out into the galaxy. Such events are rare, occurring perhaps only one in 10,000 years for typical black holes at the center of typical galaxies.
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