But Cygnus X-1 is special. It was the first. The first ever detected, that is, and is still one of the closest we know. But new observations show that a few things we thought we knew about it weren’t right, including its distance, mass, and even how it formed, which means astronomers will need to rethink some details on how stars collapse to create these objects.
Cygnus X-1 was discovered in 1964, when what were essentially fancy Geiger counters were launched into space on a series of suborbital flights. They detected X-rays coming from the direction of the constellation Cygnus. Radio observations made in 1971 pinpointed the position of the source on the sky, which surprisingly was a luminous blue O-type star called HD 226868. These are massive and powerful stars, but don’t make X-rays as strongly as was being detected.
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