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NASA'S Chandra Finds Fastest Wind From Stellar-Mass Black Hole

For Release: February 21, 2012


IGR J17091-3624
Credit: Illustration: NASA/CXC/M.Weiss
Press Image and Caption

WASHINGTON -- Astronomers using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory have clocked the fastest wind yet discovered blowing off a disk around a stellar-mass black hole. This result has important implications for understanding how this type of black hole behaves.

The record-breaking wind is moving about 20 million mph, or about 3 percent of the speed of light. This is nearly 10 times faster than had ever been seen from a stellar-mass black hole.

Stellar-mass black holes are born when extremely massive stars collapse. They typically weigh between five and 10 times the mass of the sun. The stellar-mass black hole powering this super wind is known as IGR J17091-3624, or IGR J17091 for short.

"This is like the cosmic equivalent of winds from a category five hurricane," said Ashley King from the University of Michigan, lead author of the study published in the Feb. 20 issue of The Astrophysical Journal Letters. "We weren't expecting to see such powerful winds from a black hole like this."

The wind speed in IGR J17091 matches some of the fastest winds generated by supermassive black holes, objects millions or billions of times more massive.

"It's a surprise this small black hole is able to muster the wind speeds we typically only see in the giant black holes," said co-author Jon M. Miller, also from the University of Michigan. "In other words, this black hole is performing well above its weight class."

Another unanticipated finding is that the wind, which comes from a disk of gas surrounding the black hole, may be carrying away more material than the black hole is capturing.

"Contrary to the popular perception of black holes pulling in all of the material that gets close, we estimate up to 95 percent of the matter in the disk around IGR J17091 is expelled by the wind," King said.

Unlike winds from hurricanes on Earth, the wind from IGR J17091 is blowing in many different directions. This pattern also distinguishes it from a jet, where material flows in highly focused beams perpendicular to the disk, often at nearly the speed of light.

Simultaneous observations made with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory's Expanded Very Large Array showed a radio jet from the black hole was not present when the ultra-fast wind was seen, although a radio jet is seen at other times. This agrees with observations of other stellar-mass black holes, providing further evidence the production of winds can stifle jets.

The high speed for the wind was estimated from a spectrum made by Chandra in 2011. Ions emit and absorb distinct features in spectra, which allow scientists to monitor them and their behavior. A Chandra spectrum of iron ions made two months earlier showed no evidence of the high-speed wind, meaning the wind likely turns on and off over time.

Astronomers believe that magnetic fields in the disks of black holes are responsible for producing both winds and jets. The geometry of the magnetic fields and rate at which material falls towards the black hole must influence whether jets or winds are produced.

IGR J17091 is a binary system in which a sun-like star orbits the black hole. It is found in the bulge of the Milky Way galaxy, about 28,000 light years away from Earth.

NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., manages the Chandra program for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory controls Chandra's science and flight operations from Cambridge, Mass.

For Chandra images, multimedia and related materials, visit:

For an additional interactive image, podcast, and video on the finding, visit:

Media contacts:
Trent J. Perrotto
Headquarters, Washington

Megan Watzke
Chandra X-ray Center, Cambridge, Mass.

Visitor Comments (12)

That poor star is doomed to stay locked in with the black hole, which means the star will continue to lose all of its material. Now imagine if their was life on that star. So long, goodbye.

Posted by Michael Amato on Thursday, 10.8.15 @ 17:08pm

Do you happen to have a value for the apparent magnitude of this DSO?

Posted by Micah Alma Cloward on Friday, 11.9.12 @ 18:43pm

Dear Walter,
Thanks for your questions. In this case the star got too close to the black hole, since the latter is effectively fixed in the middle of the galaxy.
-P. Edmonds, CXC

Posted by P. Edmonds on Friday, 11.9.12 @ 11:25am

My wonderment is did the star get too close to the black hole or did the black hole get too close to the star? Black hole, worm hole fixed in place ? Warndering Stella? Perhaps an occilating universe. Walter s vieira

Posted by Walter s vieira on Saturday, 10.13.12 @ 21:04pm

Oh what God has made to keep our brains active.

Posted by Jack Wolf on Thursday, 10.11.12 @ 15:53pm

I would imagine its a sling-shot affect as the black-hole and the star orbit each other. The matter gets pulled off the start at such an angle that most of the matter enters a sling-shot path running close to the event horizon which would allow it to accelerate up to such a high velocity.

Also it may be absorbing some of the Hawking radiation of the black hole which would further increase it's velocity. I believe that the more matter a black hole has near the event horizon, the more hawking radiation that is produced.

Posted by Steven Lockey on Sunday, 09.30.12 @ 11:19am

Where can I get more information to read about the stellar size black hole? Very interesting

Posted by Freda on Wednesday, 09.26.12 @ 14:39pm

Why does the milky way galaxy's nuclear bulge contain so many red giants and super giants?

Posted by SAUL GILLIS on Tuesday, 09.4.12 @ 15:20pm

Learn how to control gravity and you shall proceed through universe.The only way through for every particle in this universe.

Posted by unknown on Thursday, 08.16.12 @ 20:44pm

I am the one and only retired planner from that program; spent three wonderful years developing and then actually delivering our system to Huntsville. It is awesome to know that I contributed so much to Chandra's upbringing! NASA blood still runs thru my veins! Steve Murray was our team leader at that time - I remember holding the flash light deep into the nightime.

Posted by Gene Talford on Monday, 02.27.12 @ 15:29pm

What is causing the stellar wind in this case...the companion star or the Black Hole itself?

A very interesting article, thanks.

Marvin L. S.

Posted by Marvin L. S. on Saturday, 02.25.12 @ 19:24pm

The information that is given here is amazing.
keep it up with this good work.

Posted by Sumit Kashyap on Friday, 02.24.12 @ 12:13pm