Cygnus X-1

The X-ray source known as Cygnus X-1 was the first black hole identified. Charged particles (electrons and protons) stripped off a companion star are accelerated nearly to the speed of light, causing them to emit a lot of high-energy photons. [Credit: Chandra X-ray observatory/NASA]

About a decade after its discovery in 1964, a combination of X-ray and optical observations led to the conclusion that Cygnus X-1 was a black hole – the first such identification. The Cygnus X-1 system consists of a black hole with a mass about 10 times that of the Sun in a close orbit with a blue supergiant star with a mass of about 20 Suns. Because of its brightness and close proximity, Cygnus X-1 continues to attract the interest of scientists seeking to understand the nature of black holes and how they affect their environment.

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