IIT-G, ISRO uncover X-Ray polarisation in extragalactic black hole source

Guwahati: Researchers from Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati (IIT Guwahati) and U. R. Rao Satellite Centre, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), Bengaluru, for the first time, have detected polarised emissions from a black hole source that exists beyond the Milky Way Galaxy through a technique called X-ray polarimetry.

The researchers explained the discovery saying, large Magellanic Cloud X-3 (LMC X3) is a binary star system consisting of a black hole and a ‘normal’ star that is much hotter, bigger, and more massive than the Sun. It is located in a satellite galaxy of our Milky Way, nearly 200,000 light-years away from Earth. Since its discovery in 1971, it has been observed by various satellites. However, there has been a gap in understanding the polarization properties of X-rays emitted by highly energetic objects like stellar mass black holes in the universe, they said.

Further highlighting the importance of the research, Prof Santabrata Das, Department of Physics, IIT Guwahati, said, “X-ray polarimetry is a unique observational technique to identify where radiation comes from near black holes. LMC X-3 emits X-rays that are 10,000 times more powerful than those from the Sun. When these X-rays interact with the material around black holes, specifically when they scatter, it changes the polarization characteristics, i.e. degree and angle. This helps in understanding how matter is drawn toward black holes in the presence of intense gravitational forces.” 

The researchers studied LMC X-3 using The Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE), the first mission of NASA to study the polarization of X-rays from celestial objects. They also made use of a simultaneous broad-band coverage of Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) Mission and Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) Mission to constrain the spin of LMC X-3. 

Also about the finding Dr. Anuj Nandi, Scientist,U. R. Rao Satellite Centre (URSC), ISRO, Bangalore, said, “Intense gravitational fields can cause the emitted light from black holes to become polarized. Our observations indicate that LMC X-3 likely harbours a black hole with low rotation rate, surrounded by a slim disc structure that gives rise to the polarized emissions. “

The study has been published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society: Letters and was funded by the Science and Engineering Research Board (SERB), Department of Science and Technology, India.

The research team is led by Prof. Santabrata Das from IIT Guwahati and Dr. Anuj Nandi from URSC, Bangalore, and includes their research scholars, Mr. Seshadri Majumder (IIT Guwahati), and Mr. Ankur Kushwaha (URSC).

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These findings are expexted to open a new window to investigate and understand the nature of astrophysical black hole sources. 

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