An artist’s impression of the Cygnus X-1 system. A stellar-mass black hole orbits with a companion star located 7,200 light years from Earth. Credit: International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research

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New observations of the first black hole ever detected, the Cygnus X-1 in 1964, have led astronomers to question what they know about the Universe’s most mysterious objects.

According to the new study published in the journal Science, the black hole is actually a lot bigger than it was previously known to be. Research says the Cygnus X-1 contains the most massive stellar-mass black hole ever detected. It is also known to have 21 times the sun’s mass, which makes it 50 percent bigger than researchers previously believed it to be.

The Cygnus X-1 black hole was discovered when a pair of Geiger counters were sent to space on a rocket. It is also one of the closest known black holes to Earth.

Cygnus X-1 was finally confirmed to have a black hole in its system in 1990. British physicist Sir Stephen Hawking reportedly lost a friendly scientific bet against Professor Kip Thorne over its status. Hawking conceded the bet in 1990, after observational data backed the case that there was a black hole in the system.

While this theory lacks direct or empirical evidence, it has been widely-accepted based on indirect evidence.

Using a combination of advanced telescopes and new techniques to measure distances in space, astronomers found that the stellar phenomenon was bigger than the mass of the Sun.

Professor James Miller-Jones, the lead author from Curtin University said that viewing the same object from different locations allowed astronomers to calculate its distance, by measuring how far the object appeared to move relative to the background. The black hole and its giant partner star that is 22 times larger than the Sun, orbit each other every five and a half days.

Xueshan Zhao, co-author and a Ph.D. candidate studying at the National Astronomical Observatories—part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (NAOC) in Beijing, said that using the updated measurements for the black hole’s mass and its distance away from Earth, he could confirm that Cygnus X-1 was spinning close to the speed of light and faster than any other black hole found till date.

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