This visualization shows 22 X-ray binaries in our Milky Way galaxy and its nearest neighbor, the Large Magellanic Cloud, that host confirmed stellar-mass black holes. The systems are shown at the same physical scale, and their orbital motion is sped up by nearly 22,000 times. The view of each binary replicates how we see it from Earth. The star colors range from blue-white to reddish, representing temperatures from 5 times hotter to 45% cooler than our Sun.
While the black holes appear on a scale reflecting their masses, all are depicted using spheres larger than actual size. Cygnus X-1, with the largest companion star shown, is the first black hole ever confirmed and weighs about 21 times more than the Sun. But its surface – called its event horizon – spans only about 77 miles (124 kilometers). The enlarged spheres also cover up visible distortions produced by the black holes’ gravitational effects.
In most of these systems, a stream of gas flows directly from the star toward the black hole, forming around it a broad, flattened structure called an accretion disk. In others, like Cygnus X-1, a massive star produces a thick outflow called a stellar wind, some of which becomes swept up by the black hole’s intense gravity. Gas in the accretion disk heats up as the material slowly spirals inward, glowing in visible, ultraviolet, and finally X-ray light. Because the accretion disks reach even higher temperatures than the stars, they use a different color scheme.
Music: "Event Horizon" from Gravity. Written and produced by Lars Leonhard
Final Editing and Conversion: Scientific Frontline
Additional Credits embedded