Milky Way Black Hole Belches Out A Flare.
While it might not be polite to let go at the dinner table, the black hole at the center of our galaxy isn’t too concerned with manners. They’re big, and bossy as well.Thanks to NASA’s newest set of X-ray eyes in the skies called the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR), we’re able to catch the culprit in the act. The rather normal black hole that belongs to the Milky Way cut loose with a flare!
“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.”
After having launched just a few months ago, NuSTAR is already making headlines by producing focused images of the highest-energy X-rays. It has combined data with other observatories, such as NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory to capture information on the Sagittarius A region at the center of the Milky Way.
With these two X-ray sources at hand producing images in both the high and low energy range, all the researchers needed was to add infrared data captured by the W.M. Keck Observatory.
Compared to the “table manners” of other galaxy’s black holes, Sagittarius A shows respect and is actually rather quiet in its eating habits. Active black holes are known to “gobble” stars and matter near them, but our black hole just picks at its food – or doesn’t even eat at all.
This process isn’t quite understood by researchers, so any activity produced by the Sagittarius A region is quite exciting. Why? Because, as Chandra observations seem to suggest, even the consumption of a small body like an asteroid could cause them to erupt with a burst of energy.
According to the news release, NuSTAR is capturing x-rays being emitted by consumed matter which is heated to about 180 million degrees Fahrenheit (100 million degrees Celsius) – and the particles ramped up to near light speed.
Researchers are gathering data at all wavelengths, and the NuSTAR data will help them further refine the physics behind how black holes consume the material around them and evolve.
“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.
Original Story Source: JPL/NASA News Release. Submitted by Tammy Plotner for “Dave Reneke’s World of Space and Astronomy News”.
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