Astronomers have been studying a starburst galaxy to search for X-ray sources, many of which have the potential some day to produce gravitational waves.

Starburst galaxies like IC 10 are galaxies that produce stars at a fantastic rate; so much so that they will probably eventually use up their star-forming fuel before they can create more.

Using the Chandra X-ray Observatory, astronomers detected 110 X-ray sources in the galaxy, many of which may eventually produce gravitational waves, which are ripples in space-time caused by massive, violent events.

They found over a dozen black holes and neutron stars that are feeding off gas from young, massive companion stars.

These pairs are known as X-ray binaries because they emit so much X-ray light.

As the massive stars orbit their compact black hole or neutron star, material is pulled from the massive star to form a disc of material around the compact object.

As the material falls into the black hole or neutron star, it is heated to millions of degrees, producing the bright X-rays spotted by the astronomers.

When these massive stars fun out of fuel, they collapse and produce an explosion known as a supernova, leaving behind another compact object such as a black hole or neutron star.

If the separation between these two objects – for example a pair of black holes – becomes small enough over time, the forces between them could produce gravitational waves.

Chandra detected 100 X-ray sources in IC 10, over forty of which can also be seen in optical light, and 16 of which contain the massive supergiant stars that can feed companion black holes and neutron stars.


Iain Todd BBC Sky at Night Magazine
Iain ToddScience journalist

Iain Todd is BBC Sky at Night Magazine's Content Editor. He fell in love with the night sky when he caught his first glimpse of Orion, aged 10.