Image of the Day: The Cygnus X-3 Neutron Star Orbited by a Blue Giant

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This gamma-ray image from the Integral satellite shows Cygnus X-1 (the large white blob at center) and Cygnus X-3, an accretion disk encircling a neutron star and the third brightest high-energy emitter in the constellation of Cygnus, the Swan.


The Imager on Board the Integral Satellite (IBIS) captured this image during that test phase and showsnot only Cygnus X-1 (centre) but also Cygnus X-3 (upper left). Instead of a black hole, Cygnus X-3 is thought to be a neutron star (a tiny dead stellar core) pulling its companion star to pieces. Taken on 16 November 2002, the new IBIS observations support this theory.

Cygnus X-1 is about 10,000 light years from Earth and one of the brightest high-energy emitters in the sky. It was discovered in 1966 and is thought to be a black hole, ripping its companion star, a blue supergiant with a surface temperature of around 31,000 K, to pieces. The blue giant orbits the black hole once every 5.6 days.

Credits: ESA. Original image by the Integral IBIS team. Image processing by ESA/ECF.

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