Space

October 24, 2012

NASA’s NuStar reveals flare from Milky Way’s black hole

NASA’s newest set of X-ray eyes in the sky, the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, has caught its first look at the giant black hole parked at the center of our galaxy. The observations show the typically mild-mannered black hole during the middle of a flare-up.

“We got lucky to have captured an outburst from the black hole during our observing campaign,” said Fiona Harrison, the mission’s principal investigator at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena. “These data will help us better understand the gentle giant at the heart of our galaxy and why it sometimes flares up for a few hours and then returns to slumber.”

NuSTAR, launched June 13, is the only telescope capable of producing focused images of the highest-energy X-rays. For two days in July, the telescope teamed up with other observatories to observe Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*), the black hole at the center of the Milky Way. Participating telescopes included NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, which sees lower-energy X-ray light; and the W.M. Keck Observatory atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii, which took infrared images.

Compared to giant black holes at the centers of other galaxies, Sgr A* is relatively quiet. Active black holes tend to gobble up stars and other fuel around them. Sgr A* is thought only to nibble or not eat at all, a process that is not fully understood. When black holes consume fuel – whether a star, a gas cloud or, as recent Chandra observations have suggested, even an asteroid – they erupt with extra energy.

In the case of NuSTAR, its state-of-the-art telescope is picking up X-rays emitted by consumed matter being heated up to about 180 million degrees Fahrenheit (100 million degrees Celsius) and originating from regions where particles are boosted very close to the speed of light. Astronomers say these NuSTAR data, when combined with the simultaneous observations taken at other wavelengths, will help them better understand the physics of how black holes snack and grow in size.

“Astronomers have long speculated that the black hole’s snacking should produce copious hard X-rays, but NuSTAR is the first telescope with sufficient sensitivity to actually detect them,” said NuSTAR team member Chuck Hailey of Columbia University in New York City.

NuSTAR is a Small Explorer mission led by Caltech and managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Orbital Sciences Corporation of Dulles, Va., built the spacecraft. Its instrument was built by a consortium including Caltech; JPL; the University of California Berkeley; Columbia University; NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.; the Danish Technical University in Denmark; Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, Calif.; and ATK Aerospace Systems of Goleta, Calif.

NuSTAR’s mission operations center is at UC Berkeley, with the Italian Space Agency providing an equatorial ground station located at Malindi, Kenya. The mission’s outreach program is based at Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park, Calif. Goddard manages NASA’s Explorer Program. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

 




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 

NASA seeks proposals to develop capabilities for deep space exploration, journey to Mars

NASA is soliciting proposals for concept studies or technology development projects that will be necessary to enable human pioneers to go to deep space destinations such as an asteroid and Mars. Through a Broad Area Announcemen NASA released Oct. 28, the agency seeks to use public-private partnerships to share funding to develop advanced propulsion, habitation...
 
 
Photograph courtesy of  NASA/CXC/Stanford/I. Zhuravleva et al

NASA’S Chandra Observatory identifies impact of cosmic chaos on star birth

Photograph courtesy of NASA/CXC/Stanford/I. Zhuravleva et al Chandra observations of the Perseus and Virgo galaxy clusters suggest turbulence may be preventing hot gas there from cooling, addressing a long-standing question of ...
 
 

NASA hosts first agency-wide social media event for Orion’s first flight test

NASA invites social media followers to apply for credentials to get a preview of the Orion spacecraft’s first flight test during NASA Social events Dec. 3 at each of its 10 centers. Orion will launch on a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket from Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station,...
 

 
nasa-spacex

Critical NASA science returns to Earth aboard SpaceX Dragon spacecraft

SpaceX’s Dragon cargo spacecraft splashed down at 3:39 p.m., EDT, Oct. 25, in the Pacific Ocean, approximately 300 miles west of Baja California, returning 3,276 pounds of NASA cargo and science samples from the Internati...
 
 
NASA, ESA, PSI, JHU/APL, STScI/AURA image

Close encounters: Comet Siding Spring seen next to Mars

NASA, ESA, PSI, JHU/APL, STScI/AURA image This composite NASA Hubble Space Telescope Image captures the positions of comet Siding Spring and Mars in a never-before-seen close passage of a comet by the Red Planet, which happened...
 
 

NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly shares bullying prevention message ahead of one-year mission

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, who is scheduled to fly on a one-year spaceflight mission in 2015, is lending his voice to help reduce childhood bullying. As part of Bullying Prevention Awareness Month, Kelly recorded a special message encouraging bystanders to take action. “Be more than just a bystander,” said Kelly in the message. “Take action...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>