Polarized Gamma-Ray Emission from the Galactic Black Hole Cygnus X-1

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Science  22 Apr 2011:
Vol. 332, Issue 6028, pp. 438-439
DOI: 10.1126/science.1200848

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Because of their inherently high flux allowing the detection of clear signals, black hole x-ray binaries are interesting candidates for polarization studies, even if no polarization signals have been observed from them before. Such measurements would provide further detailed insight into these sources’ emission mechanisms. We measured the polarization of the gamma-ray emission from the black hole binary system Cygnus X-1 with the International Gamma-Ray Astrophysics Laboratory Imager on Board the Integral Satellite (INTEGRAL/IBIS) telescope. Spectral modeling of the data reveals two emission mechanisms: The 250- to 400-keV (kilo–electron volt) data are consistent with emission dominated by Compton scattering on thermal electrons and are weakly polarized. The second spectral component seen in the 400-keV to 2-MeV band is by contrast strongly polarized, revealing that the MeV emission is probably related to the jet first detected in the radio band.

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