X-ray emission coming from the heavens was detected in the early 1960's by means of special detectors flown outside the Earth's atmosphere in rockets or satellites. By 1974, a total of 161 x-ray sources had been examined and cataloged. X-rays are high-energy emission in the region of the spectrum from about 1 to 140 Angstrom units, which is above the visual region. Most x-ray sources are strong, point like, and show a distinct concentration toward the galactic plane, an indication that they are members of the galaxy.
In 1966, the strongest x-ray source (Scorpio X-1) was identified optically with a faint blue star-like object that looked like an old nova. It had been known that old novas are close binary systems in which one of the stars is a white dwarf. Such binary systems involved a transfer of matter from the normal star to the white dwarf, leading to an explosion in the outermost envelope of the white-dwarf nova. With the discovery of Sco X-1, it was suggested that the x-ray sources were binaries and that x-rays were being emitted by a hot cloud around the white dwarf, consisting of matter captured from the normal companion star. Other suggestions for the phenomenon were a neutron star and a black hole.
A black hole is a star that hat collapsed under gravitational pressure to such a small radius that the tendency toward further collapse exceeds the velocity of light itself, with the result that light emitted from the object cannot get out. As the star suffers internal collapse, the intensity of gravity above its surface causes space-time to fold over the star, which vanishes from the universe, leaving a very highly warped region or "hole" in an otherwise flat area of space. The idea that any force can be greater than the speed of light has frightened and intrigued the modern mind and the literature -surrounding the black hole reads like a science-fiction novel. The vocabulary surrounding the black hole phenomenon represents some of the most fascinating terms to emerge in our lifetimes. For example:
At the center of a black hole is the SINGULARITY, a point of infinite pressure, density, and curvature. At the edge of a black hole is the EVENT HORIZON, a one-way surface from which there is no escape, once it is crossed. Great speculation exists concerning what may happen if an object falls into one of these gravitational vortices. At first astrophysicists decided that an object unfortunate enough to be drawn through the event horizon would simply be crushed beyond imagination when it came to the singularity, and that was that. Further speculation was able to demonstrate that this was not the only possibility and ways began to be found to avoid the singularity. It was felt that if the singularity could be avoided that the traveler would emerge, perhaps in another universe than our own or in a different part of our own universe or a different time.
It has been written that the black hole is connected through a tunnel called a "worm hole" to a "white hole" where the material gushes forth once again in re-birth and new life. All of these concepts are presented through very complex mathematics. Whatever the truth may be, the discovery of the black hole and gravitational physics in general has carried scientists to the brink of the known and threatens to plunge them into what may amount to a basic renewal similar to that induced through the Einstein theory of relativity.
Several x-ray binary star systems found to date may contain a black hole as one of their components. The only, more or less, official black hole is the x-ray source Cygnus X-1 (#101 in the x-ray list) located at 13° degrees of Aquarius on the ecliptic. It is now considered that black holes may be very common in the universe and that they are required or regular members rather than oddballs. Speculation ranges from black holes the size of a pinhead in existence to their being a black hole at the center of our galaxy. It has been suggested that globular clusters may contain black holes. More about some of the other super-dense stellar remains is given in the section on stellar evolution.
X-ray astronomy is experiencing rapid growth similar to that of high-energy particle physics in the 1960's. New data pouring in from orbiting x-ray satellites will help to revolutionize our knowledge of physics through a variety of ongoing research that includes (1) an understanding of how plasma behaves at temperatures of billions of degrees when immersed in magnetic fields millions of times stronger than any on the Earth, (2) the measurements of neutron star masses, (3) sources of rapidly repeating x-ray bursters, (4) x-ray polarimetry, and (4) more details on the various black hole candidates.
We can expect detailed x-ray maps of our own and other galaxies to become available in the next few years. The gamma-ray astronomy (at even higher frequencies) is just now getting to the point of locating discrete sources and the coming years will see this branch of non-optical astronomy providing us with its unique perspective. However we choose to view the emergence of the non-optical astronomy, it has changed forever our way of viewing ourselves and our universe and has extended our window into space (in both directions) until what we now have is a panorama of light.
It is a good question what all of this means to the counseling astrologer. Some general thoughts would have to include: greater tolerance of the range of human genius extending from the more 'feeling' or radio regions of the spectrum through the visual or conscious-mind regions to the x-ray or super-conscious levels of experience. It is a general tenet of many astrologers that there is a coincidence of new discoveries and ideas with a change of consciousness or life-perspective. If this is so, then we are changing now like we have never changed in the history of time, as we have recorded it. It has been my experience that these non-optical sources check out in the traditional astrological interpretative ways, i.e. by Sun/Earth axis, conjunctions, aspects, etc.
Copyright (c) 1997-99 Michael Erlewine