Oxymoronic Black Hole Provides Clues to Growth

RGG 118
Astronomers using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and the 6.5-meter Clay Telescope in Chile have identified the smallest supermassive black hole ever detected in the center of a galaxy, as described in our latest press release. This oxymoronic object could provide clues to how much larger black holes formed along with their host galaxies 13 billion years or more in the past.

A Disk-Shattering Discovery

Jeremy Hare
Jeremy Hare

We are very pleased to welcome Jeremy Hare as a guest blogger today. Jeremy is a co-author of a study led by George Pavlov from Pennsylvania Statue University and Oleg Kargaltsev from George Washington University that is the subject of our most recent press release, on a binary system named LS 2883. Jeremy is about to begin his fourth year of graduate school at GWU working under Oleg Kargaltsev. He studies high-mass gamma-ray binaries, mainly in X-rays, and the classification of X-ray sources using machine learning. He tells us that LS 2883 was the first research project he worked on in graduate school and that it has been “very exciting to study!”

High mass gamma-ray binaries are rare objects in the Galaxy. These binaries consist of a massive star (usually with a mass greater than 10 solar masses) and a compact object, a neutron star or black hole. Many high-mass stars have a disk of material around them, which the compact object can interact with as it nears the star in its (often elliptical) orbit. High-mass gamma-ray binaries can accelerate particles to extreme energies of 10 TeV (=1012 electron volts, or eV) or higher, which is comparable to the energies that are currently being produced at the Large Hadron Collider. These particles then scatter off of lower energy photons (packets of electromagnetic energy that make up light) produced by the star, transferring some of their energy and boosting the photon’s energy to the GeV (109 eV) and TeV energy range.

Chandra’s "Sweet 16"!

Chandra Sweet Sixteen
More information at http://chandra.harvard.edu/16th/index.html

Birthdays can be a lot of fun and most teenagers can’t wait to turn sixteen. After all, this birthday often marks new adventures and opportunities (not to mention, maybe a party!)

Today we are celebrating the “sweet 16th” birthday not of a person, but of NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory. On July 23, 1999, Chandra was launched into space aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia and has been working diligently to explore the high-energy Universe ever since.

Chandra Looks to Pluto

On July 14th, the New Horizons spacecraft will fly by Pluto during its unprecedented mission to the outer Solar System. In addition to the data gathered by New Horizons and its suite of instruments, other telescopes – including the Chandra X-ray Observatory – will be pitching in to help astronomers learn more about this distant and icy world.

New Horizons Spacecraft
Artist conception of New Horizons Spacecraft.
Credits: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

Stellar Sparklers That Last

NGC 1333
While fireworks only last a short time here on Earth, a bundle of cosmic sparklers in a nearby cluster of stars will be going off for a very long time. NGC 1333 is a star cluster populated with many young stars that are less than 2 million years old, a blink of an eye in astronomical terms for stars like the Sun expected to burn for billions of years.

Bat Astronomy: Echolocation of a Neutron Star

Sebastian Heinz

We are pleased to welcome guest blogger Sebastian Heinz, a Professor in the Astronomy Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Sebastian led the team that discovered light echoes around Circinus X-1, the subject of our latest press release. He received his Ph.D. at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He studies relativistic jets − a phenomenon observed around black holes and neutron stars and started investigating the neutron star Circinus X-1 star when he was a Chandra Postdoctoral Fellow at MIT.

Some astronomical discoveries are straightforward − you observe something and it is immediately clear what you have found and what the consequences are. Often, though, astronomy requires the combination of different people’s skills and different kinds of data to solve a puzzle. This was definitely one of those puzzles.

When we downloaded the data from our long Chandra observation of the neutron star Circinus X-1 in early 2014, it was immediately clear that we were looking at an exceptionally bright light echo. Light echoes are created just like sound echoes, when light waves bounce off an obstacle (in this case dust clouds). Because their path has a kink in it, the bounced light waves take longer to arrive at the telescope than the waves that didn't bounce. Our echo resulted from a two-month long huge X-ray outburst Circinus X-1 had had in late 2013 (see the X-ray movie from MAXI included here), making it the largest, brightest, most spectacular set of X-ray rings to date, which is why we jokingly call Circinus X-1 the "Lord of the Rings".

Chandra Finds Evidence for Serial Black Hole Eruptions

Astronomers have used NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory to show that multiple eruptions from a supermassive black hole over 50 million years have rearranged the cosmic landscape at the center of a group of galaxies.

Scientists discovered this history of black hole eruptions by studying NGC 5813, a group of galaxies about 105 million light years from Earth. These Chandra observations are the longest ever obtained of a galaxy group, lasting for just over a week. The Chandra data are shown in this new composite image where the X-rays from Chandra (purple) have been combined with visible light data (red, green and blue).

The Great and the Small: Is Quantum Foam Losing its Fizz?

Eric Perlman
Eric Perlman

We are very pleased to welcome Eric Perlman as a guest blogger today. He led the study setting limits on the foaminess of space-time that is the subject of our latest press release. Eric is a professor at the Florida Institute of Technology. After completing his PhD in 1994 at the University of Colorado, he held postdoctoral fellowships at the Goddard Space Flight Center and Space Telescope Science Institute. He also held research positions at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. He has lived in Florida for 8 years and enjoys his family, singing, and playing chess and other board games.

Astronomy has been a tool of discovery since the dawn of civilization. For thousands of years, humans used the stars to navigate and find their place in the universe. Astronomy made possible the travels of the ancient Polynesians across the Pacific Ocean as well as measurements of the Earth’s size and shape by the ancient Greeks. Today, astronomers search for hints about what the universe was like when the universe was much younger. So imagine, for a second, what life would be like – and how much less we would know about ourselves and the universe – if the microscopic nature of space-time made some of these measurements impossible.


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