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Volume 565 Issue 7738, 10 January 2019

Evolution of a black hole

The cover image shows an artist’s impression of a black hole that has started to accrete material from a nearby star. The properties of accretion flow for a stellar-mass black hole can change on a timescale of days to months. When the black hole ‘turns on’ after accreting material it has a hard (high-energy) X-ray spectrum that is produced by the hot corona (shown in blue) above its accretion disk (yellow). It then changes to a soft (lower-energy) spectrum that is dominated by emissions from the accretion disk. But whether it is a change in disk’s radius or a reduction in the corona that drives this transition has been an open question. In this week’s issue, Erin Kara and her colleagues provide results that may help to settle the debate. The researchers studied a newly identified black hole transient and followed its evolution using instruments on the International Space Station. They found over the course of the hole’s evolution from hard to soft emissions, the corona contracts but the inner edge of the accretion disk stays in the same place.

Cover image: Aurore Simonnet

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