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Posted on November 16th, 2012

Out of This World – NuSTAR in Action

In May’s edition of Out of This World, I highlighted NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR), which images high-energy X-rays in the universe, before its launch on June 13, 2012. Since its successful launch and orbit, a number of images collected by the telescope have been made available. One of the first images was a black hole in the Cygnus Constellation which was chosen due to the brightness of the X-rays in the region. A number of other targets were chosen to calibrate the telescope’s detectors and to adjust where the X-rays hit the detectors.

This image of the black hole in the Cygnus Constellation was taken by NuSTAR. Inset is an example of X-ray imagery of the same region taken by previous telescopes. The dramatic difference in fidelity demonstrates NuSTAR’s capabilities to detect X-ray energy in the universe. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

More recently, NuSTAR has turned its attention to the black hole in the center of our Milky Way Galaxy, and it happened to capture the black hole in the middle of a rare flare up. Most black holes consume surrounding entities like stars, gas clouds and any other ‘fuels’ within their reach. When they do, black holes flare up with intense energy. The black hole in our galaxy appears to be more subdued than most of its counterparts, rarely sweeping up surrounding fuels. Researchers were excited to catch this event with the new telescope, giving them an opportunity to study our own black hole.

NuSTAR’s observation of the black hole in the center of our galaxy is the first focused view of it in high-energy X-ray. The bright, white section of the central area is the hottest part of the black hole, and the pink areas are surrounding hot gases. NuSTAR also happened to capture a flare in the black hole during observation, depicted in the panel on the right side. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Researchers are hoping that NuSTAR, in combination with other telescopes, will help them better understand black holes, their eating habits and how they grow in size. In the next two years, the telescope will image black holes in our own galaxy and beyond, probing into these objects and the surrounding regions and measuring how fast these entities are spinning. The telescope will also look at dead supernovae stars, clustered galaxies, high-speed jets and our own sun.

Katie Nelson

Geospatial Ninja

(303) 718-7163

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