Simple Elliptical Galaxy UGC 1382 Astonishes Astronomers

With 10 times the mass than first estimates and a younger inner region than outer, this out-of-the-way galaxy appears to be composed of assorted parts from other island universes 

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Space news (astrophysics: unusual, rare galaxy types; UGC 1382) – 250 million light-years from Earth in an out-of-the-way, isolated little corner of the cosmos – 

Living in a suburban neighborhood of an out-of-the-way little town or city is beneficial if you want to stop change due to foreign influences and exchanges. In a similar way, astronomers believe humongous, bizarre galaxy UGC 1382 kept its stunning size and the backward ages of its inner and outer components. At around 720,000 light-years across its more than seven times wider than the Milky Way and one of the largest isolated galaxies detected during the human journey to the beginning of space and time. The inner regions of this unusual galaxy are also younger than its outer parts, which would be like finding a tree whose inner growth rings are younger than its outer rings. It’s like UGC 1382 was put together from different parts of other galaxies that are held together by a delicate balance between processes and forces. An equilibrium scientists study in order to gain more understanding and knowledge of the evolution of galaxies and the universe. 

Mark Seibert Credits: Carnegie Observatories
Mark Seibert Credits: Carnegie Observatories

“This rare, ‘Frankenstein’ galaxy formed and is able to survive because it lies in a quiet little suburban neighborhood of the universe, where none of the hubbub of the more crowded parts can bother it,” said study co-author Mark Seibert of the Observatories of the Carnegie Institution for Science, Pasadena, California. “It is so delicate that a slight nudge from a neighbor would cause it to disintegrate.” 

The Galaxy Evolution Explorer Credits: NASA/JPL/Cal-tech
The Galaxy Evolution Explorer Credits: NASA/JPL/Cal-tech

Seibert and graduate student Lea Hagen discovered the massive size and backward ages of the inner and outer portions of UGC 1382 while looking at images of the galaxy taken by NASA’s Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX) in ultraviolet wavelengths. They had been searching for data on star formation in average elliptical galaxies, instead, a titan with intangible arms extending far outside UGC 1382 emerged from the darkness.   

“We saw spiral arms extending far outside this galaxy, which no one had noticed before, and which elliptical galaxies should not have,” said Hagen, who led the study. “That put us on an expedition to find out what this galaxy is and how it formed.” 

Painstakingly searching through data of the galaxy obtained by a team of telescopes astronomers built a new model of the structure and dimensions of this mysterious behemoth. Spanning nearly 720,000 light-years, UGC 1382 is one of the largest galaxies ever discovered. Very few new stars form in this island universe because gas is spread thinly along its rotating disk. Astronomers are studying the history of star formation and evolution of this unusual galaxy looking for clues to explain the mysteries uncovered. 

The most tantalizing clue’s the relative ages of the various parts of galaxy UGC 1382 are backward compared to previous galaxies observed during the human journey to the beginning of space and time. Normally, astrophysicists expect to see new star formation primarily in the outer, newer regions of a galaxy, while the older, inner regions contain mainly older stars. By combining data collected by the team, scientists determined the unusual structure and evolution of star formation in this massive galaxy. 

“The center of UGC 1382 is actually younger than the spiral disk surrounding it,” Seibert said. “It’s old on the outside and young on the inside. This is like finding a tree whose inner growth rings are younger than the outer rings.” 

The final conclusion

Astronomers think this unique galaxy resulted around 3 billion years ago when two smaller galaxies began orbiting a larger, possibly lenticular galaxy, which eventually settled into current galaxy UGC 1382. They continue to study this unusual galaxy looking for additional clues to explain its unique structure and evolution compared to other members of the Galaxy Zoo. This data will enable the search for more examples of this galaxy to help explain its unusual structure and evolution. 

“By understanding this galaxy, we can get clues to how galaxies form on a larger scale, and uncover more galactic neighborhood surprises,” Hagen said. 

Learn how astronomers think galaxy CGCG254-021 Got Its Tail.

Read about giant elliptical galaxy Centaurus A.

Learn more about lenticular galaxies.

Take the space voyage of NASA

Learn more about the space discoveries of the ESA here

Read and learn more about galaxy UGC 1382

Learn more about the discoveries made by the GALEX mission here

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Learn more about NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) here

Learn more about the Sloan Sky Survey

Read about the discoveries made by the Two Micron All-Sky Survey (2MASS) here

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Read about the space discoveries of Carnegie’s du Pont Telescope at Las Campanas Observatory here

The Helix Nebula: The Eye of God

Expelled outer layers of white dwarf glowing brightly in the infrared 

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Space news (astrophysics: planetary nebula; Helix Nebula) – 650 light-years from Earth toward the constellation Aquarius – 

This composite image shows a visually stunning planetary nebula labeled “The Eye of God” more serious observers call the Helix Nebula (NGC 7293). Planetary nebula are the remains of a dying star much like our own Sol, only 5 billion years in the future. At this time the Sun will run out of hydrogen to use as its fuel source for the fusion process and will start using helium to create heavier carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen. Once it runs out of helium to fuse, it will die and expel its outer gas layers, leaving a tiny, hot core called a white dwarf. An Earth-sized core so dense a teaspoon full would weigh more than a few black rhinos. 

First discovered in the 18th century, planetary nebula like the Helix Nebula emit across a similar, broad spectrum from ultraviolet to infrared. The image shown at the top uses a combination of ultraviolet radiation collected by NASA’s Galaxy Evolution Explorer ((GALEX in blue(0.15 to 2.3 microns)) and infrared light detected by their Spitzer Space Telescope ((red(8 to 24 microns) and green(3.6 to 4.5 microns)) and Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer ((WISE in red(3.4 to 4.5 microns)) showing the subtle differences observed in the different wavelengths of light emitted by ghostly celestial objects like NGC 7293 and NGC 6369 (The Little Ghost). 

Dust makes this cosmic eye look red. This eerie Spitzer Space Telescope image shows infrared radiation from the well-studied Helix Nebula (NGC 7293), which is a mere 700 light-years away in the constellation Aquarius. The two light-year diameter shroud of dust and gas around a central white dwarf has long been considered an excellent example of a planetary nebula, representing the final stages in the evolution of a sun-like star. Spitzer data show the nebula's central star is itself immersed in a surprisingly bright infrared glow. Models suggest the glow is produced by a dust debris disk. Even though the nebular material was ejected from the star many thousands of years ago, the close-in dust could be generated by collisions in a reservoir of objects analogous to our own solar system's Kuiper Belt or cometary Oort cloud. Formed in the distant planetary system, the comet-like bodies have otherwise survived even the dramatic late stages of the star's evolution. Image credit: NASA, JPL-Caltech, Kate Su (Steward Obs, U. Arizona) et al.
Dust makes this cosmic eye look red. This eerie Spitzer Space Telescope image shows infrared radiation from the well-studied Helix Nebula (NGC 7293), which is a mere 700 light-years away in the constellation Aquarius. The two light-year diameter shroud of dust and gas around a central white dwarf has long been considered an excellent example of a planetary nebula, representing the final stages in the evolution of a sun-like star.
Spitzer data show the nebula’s central star is itself immersed in a surprisingly bright infrared glow. Models suggest the glow is produced by a dust debris disk. Even though the nebular material was ejected from the star many thousands of years ago, the close-in dust could be generated by collisions in a reservoir of objects analogous to our own solar system’s Kuiper Belt or cometary Oort cloud. Formed in the distant planetary system, the comet-like bodies have otherwise survived even the dramatic late stages of the star’s evolution.
Image credit: NASA, JPL-Caltech, Kate Su (Steward Obs, U. Arizona) et al.

Astronomers have studied planetary nebulae like the Helix Nebula and M2-9 (Wings of a Butterfly Nebula) as much as any recorded during the human journey to the beginning of space and time. The remnant of a rapidly evolving star near the end of its lifespan, the white dwarf star is a tiny, barely perceptible point of light at the center of the nebula in this composite image. Thousands of planetary nebula have been detected within a distance of about 100 million light-years of Earth and astronomers estimate about 10,000 exist in the Milky Way. Making planetary nebula a relatively common celestial mystery observed as we trace our roots to their beginning. 

Watch this YouTube video on the Helix Nebula.

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This collage of planetary nebula images was put together by NASA technicians to express the beauty and wonder of planetary nebula. Credits: NASA

Read and learn about the icy blue wings of planetary nebula Hen 2-437.

Read about planetary nebula Menzel 2.

Learn about the last days of planetary nebula Hen 2-362.

Learn more about the Helix Nebula here

Read and learn more about planetary nebulae

Join the space journey of NASA here

Learn more about NASA’s GALEX

Discover the Spitzer Space Telescope here

Read and discover more about NGC 6369. 

Learn more about what NASA’s WISE has discovered about the infrared cosmos here

Discover the Wings of a Butterfly Nebula.  

Older Spiral Galaxy NGC 5010 in Transition Phase

Lenticular galaxy changing into a less defined elliptical galaxy 

The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has captured a beautiful galaxy that, with its reddish and yellow central area, looks rather like an explosion from a Hollywood movie. The galaxy, called NGC 5010, is in a period of transition. The aging galaxy is moving on from life as a spiral galaxy, like our Milky Way, to an older, less defined type called an elliptical galaxy. In this in-between phase, astronomers refer to NGC 5010 as a lenticular galaxy, which has features of both spirals and ellipticals. NGC 5010 is located around 140 million light-years away in the constellation of Virgo (The Virgin). The galaxy is oriented sideways to us, allowing Hubble to peer into it and show the dark, dusty, remnant bands of spiral arms. NGC 5010 has notably started to develop a big bulge in its disc as it takes on a more rounded shape. Most of the stars in NGC 5010 are red and elderly. The galaxy no longer contains all that many of the fast-lived blue stars common in younger galaxies that still actively produce new populations of stars. Much of the dusty and gaseous fuel needed to create fresh stars has already been used up in NGC 5010. Overt time, the galaxy will grow progressively more
The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has captured a beautiful galaxy that, with its reddish and yellow central area, looks rather like an explosion from a Hollywood movie. The galaxy, called NGC 5010, is in a period of transition. Credits: NASA/Hubble/ESA

Space news (The evolution of galaxies: transition periods; lenticular galaxies) – 140 million light-years away toward the constellation Virgo – 

The Hubble Space Telescope image of lenticular galaxy NGC 5010 seen here shows an older spiral galaxy in transition to an elliptical type. Lenticular type galaxies are considered a transition phase between spiral and elliptical galaxies. Presently, it has characteristics astronomers find in both spiral and elliptical galaxies, but will eventually evolve into a less defined elliptical galaxy. 

All of the blue, fast-living stars that existed in spiral galaxy NGC 5010 have aged into older red stars as it transitioned into a lenticular galaxy. The vast majority of stars seen in this image are red and elderly, with only a few younger, blue stars sprinkled like fairy dust across dark, dusty, remnants of spiral arms. It has also started to develop a bigger bulge in its disk as it starts to take on a more rounded shape characteristic of lenticular and sometimes elliptical galaxies. 

The orientation of the galaxy’s sideways to the telescope in this image. View elliptical galaxy NGC 5010 far in the future from the same reference point and older, red stars will exist within it. It could have a circular, long, narrow or even cigar shape since all are characteristic of elliptical galaxies. No matter its shape, this elliptical galaxy will contain even less gas and dust than it did when it was younger and brighter. 

Astronomers have found some galaxies have long tails, read more about this strange phenomena

Read about starburst galaxies, the birthplace of generations of new stars.

Learn about giant elliptical galaxy Centaurus A.

Learn more about lenticular galaxies

Take the space journey of the Hubble Space Telescope here

Learn more about galaxy NGC 5010

Discover more about spiral galaxies here

Learn more about elliptical galaxies

Read and learn about NASA’s journey to the stars.

Chandra Detects X-ray Emissions of Comets PanSTARRS and ISON

Produced when heavy atoms in solar wind strike lighter atoms in comets’ atmosphere 

Astronomers used Chandra to observe Comet ISON and Comet PanSTARRS in 2013, when these comets were relatively close to the Earth. The graphic shows the comets in optical images taken by an astrophotographer, with insets showing the X-ray images from Chandra. The X-ray emission is produced when a wind of particles from the Sun – the solar wind – strikes the comet’s atmosphere. The Chandra data was used to estimate the composition of the solar wind, including the amount of carbon and nitrogen, finding values that agree with independent measurements. Image credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Univ. of CT/B.Snios et al, Optical: DSS, Damian Peach (damianpeach.com)
Astronomers used Chandra to observe Comet ISON and Comet PanSTARRS in 2013, when these comets were relatively close to the Earth. The graphic shows the comets in optical images taken by an astrophotographer, with insets showing the X-ray images from Chandra. The X-ray emission is produced when a wind of particles from the Sun – the solar wind – strikes the comet’s atmosphere. The Chandra data was used to estimate the composition of the solar wind, including the amount of carbon and nitrogen, finding values that agree with independent measurements.
Image credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Univ. of CT/B.Snios et al, Optical: DSS, Damian Peach (damianpeach.com)

Space news (planetary dynamics: Oort Cloud comets; PanSTARRS & ISON) – 90 & 130 million miles from Earth, respectively, observing x-ray emissions as solar wind particles strike comets’ atmosphere – 

Astronomers used Chandra to observe Comet ISON and Comet PanSTARRS in 2013, when these comets were relatively close to the Earth. The graphic shows the comets in optical images taken by an astrophotographer, with insets showing the X-ray images from Chandra. The X-ray emission is produced when a wind of particles from the Sun - the solar wind - strikes the comet's atmosphere. The Chandra data was used to estimate the composition of the solar wind, including the amount of carbon and nitrogen, finding values that agree with independent measurements.
Astronomers used Chandra to observe Comet ISON and Comet PanSTARRS in 2013, when these comets were relatively close to the Earth. The graphic shows the comets in optical images taken by an astrophotographer, with insets showing the X-ray images from Chandra. The X-ray emission is produced when a wind of particles from the Sun – the solar wind – strikes the comet’s atmosphere. The Chandra data was used to estimate the composition of the solar wind, including the amount of carbon and nitrogen, finding values that agree with independent measurements.

Thousands of years ago, ancient sky watchers observed terrible, fiery balls of fire that appeared suddenly in the sky. Hairy stars resembling fiery swords that appeared unpredictably, ancient astronomers and societies interpreted these terrifying, fear inducing travelers as harbingers of doom predicting impending disaster or even success in a future endeavor. Often connecting their appearance to famine, war, and plague, to the death of a beloved or fall of an empire or warlord, throughout history comets filled us with fear and even during modern times continue to entrance and fill us with awe. 

Comet ISON comes in from the bottom right and moves out toward the upper right, getting fainter and fainter, in this time-lapse image from the ESA/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory. The image of the sun at the center is from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory. Image Credit: ESA/NASA/SOHO/SDO/GSFC
Comet ISON comes in from the bottom right and moves out toward the upper right, getting fainter and fainter, in this time-lapse image from the ESA/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory. The image of the sun at the center is from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory.
Image Credit: ESA/NASA/SOHO/SDO/GSFC

Recently, astronomers working with NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory detected x-ray emissions produced as particles in the solar wind struck the atmospheres’ of Comets ISON and PanSTARRS. Two long-period comets originating in the Oort Cloud far beyond the orbit of the planets, solar scientists use them as laboratories to study the composition of the stream of exotic particles flowing from the Sun called the solar wind. Astrophysicists determined x-ray emissions were produced as heavy particles in the solar wind struck lighter particles in the atmospheres’ of Comets ISON and PanSTARRS. X-ray emissions with varying shapes indicating differences in the solar wind and atmospheres’ of these comets at the time of the observations.  

This image from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory shows the sun, but no Comet ISON was seen. A white plus sign shows where the Comet should have appeared. It is likely that the comet did not survive the trip. Credits: NASA/SDO
This image from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory shows the sun, but no Comet ISON was seen. A white plus sign shows where the Comet should have appeared. It is likely that the comet did not survive the trip.
Credits: NASA/SDO

Observations of Comet ISON detected a greenish hue attributed to gasses like cyanogen, which contains oxygen and nitrogen, streaming from its nucleus. Chandra data obtained shows this comet has a well-developed, parabolic shape indicative of a dense atmosphere. In comparison, observations of Comet PanSTARRS show a more diffuse x-ray spectrum, indicating it has less gas and more dust in its atmosphere. Observations that agree with independent measurements made by NASA’s Advanced Composition Explorer and other instruments. Planetary scientists plan to use the detailed computer simulations they developed during these studies to help analyze the data obtained by Chandra of Comets ISON and PanSTARRS to investigate interactions between the solar wind and other comets, planets, and even interstellar gas.  

Twelve NASA spacecraft assets had an opportunity to observe Comet ISON, including the Heliophysics solar observatories; Solar Dynamic Observatory, STEREO and SOHO. Credits: NASA
Twelve NASA spacecraft assets had an opportunity to observe Comet ISON, including the Heliophysics solar observatories; Solar Dynamic Observatory, STEREO and SOHO.
Credits: NASA

Learn more about the role planetary scientists suspect comets and asteroids played during the opening moments of the birth of the solar system and planets.

Read and learn about viewing the ghostly glow of streaking Orionid meteorites.

Learn about what planetary scientists discovered during the recent visit of NASA’s Deep Impact spacecraft to comet Hartley 2.

After perihelion comet, ISON’s changed in ways planetary scientists are trying to determine at this time. Watch this NASA video on the ultimate fate of comet ISON.

Join NASA’s journey to the beginning of space and time here

Watch this NASA-sponsored tour of  Comet ISON

Discover more about comet PanSTARRS here

Learn more about NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory.

NASA’s Next Generation Wide Field Infra-Red Survey Telescope

Will study dark energy, conduct a census of discovered exoplanets, and image and analysis their spectroscopy using coronagraphy.  

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Credits: NASA/WFIRST

Space news (Astrophysics: next generation infrared telescope; WFIRST) – Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC), Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) –  

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Credits: NASA.

Scheduled for launch sometime in 2020, the exact date hasn’t been set in stone, NASA’s Wide Field Infra-Red Survey Telescope (WFIRST)’s currently in the formation stage in various science institutions around the United States. NASA’s next generation wide-field infrared survey telescope, WFIRST’s expected to open a wider window on the infrared cosmos and unravel secrets of the universe. 

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Credits: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

“WFIRST has the potential to open our eyes to the wonders of the universe, much the same way Hubble has,” said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at Headquarters in Washington. “This mission uniquely combines the ability to discover and characterize planets beyond our own solar system with the sensitivity and optics to look wide and deep into the universe in a quest to unravel the mysteries of dark energy and dark matter.”  

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Former astronaut and current NASA assistant director John Grunsfeld. Credits: NASA.

Utilizing a view 100 times bigger than the Hubble Space Telescope, it will compliment astrophysicists exploring dark energy, dark matter, and the origins and evolution of the cosmos. Carrying a chronograph capable of blocking the individual glare of a star, WFIRST will detect the faint light of planets, making it possible for the first time to make detailed measurements of the chemical makeup of alien atmospheres light-years away. By making a survey of the atmospheres of many alien worlds astronomers will add to our knowledge of their origins and physics and search for planetary atmospheres capable of sustaining life. 

Credits: NASA
Credits: NASA

“WFIRST is designed to address science areas identified as top priorities by the astronomical community,” said Paul Hertz, director of NASA’s Astrophysics Division in Washington. “The Wide-Field Instrument will give the telescope the ability to capture a single image with the depth and quality of Hubble, but covering 100 times the area. The coronagraph will provide revolutionary science, capturing the faint, but direct images of distant gaseous worlds and super-Earths.”  

Paul Hertz, Director of the Astrophysics Division in the Science Mission Directorate at NASA. Credits: NASA
Paul Hertz, Director of the Astrophysics Division in the Science Mission Directorate at NASA. Credits: NASA

Designed and engineered to compliment the discoveries of the Hubble Space Telescope, the Kepler Space Telescope, and future Transiting Exoplanet Survey Telescope (TESS), WFIRST will follow the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope around 2018. One of NASA’s next generation astrophysics observatories, WFIRST will offer a treasure trove of astronomical data and survey the cosmos to discover the mysteries of the universe. 

Credits: NASA
Credits: NASA

“In addition to its exciting capabilities for dark energy and exoplanets, WFIRST will provide a treasure trove of exquisite data for all astronomers,” said Neil Gehrels, WFIRST project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “This mission will survey the universe to find the most interesting objects out there.” 

WFIRST’s sensitivity and wide view of the cosmos will allow astronomers to conduct a large-scale survey of exoplanets by monitoring the brightness of millions of stars. Utilizing numerous methods, astrophysicists will use this space observatory to investigate the ways dark energy and dark matter have altered, affected the evolution of the cosmos. 

Credits: NASA
Credits: NASA

Go for launch!

NASA’s chiseled a tentative date on paper of sometime in the 2020s for the launch of WFIRST, but delays and even improvements of this timetable are possible. After reaching space, NASA’s next generation wide-field infrared survey telescope will travel to an L2 point millions of miles from Earth, before starting astrophysical operations and improving and enhancing our view of the infrared cosmos. 

Watch this video on WFIRST.

Read about ASCA, Advanced Satellite for Cosmology & Astrophysics.

Read and learn about the discoveries of the Giant Magellan Telescope, located high up on an Andes Mountain peak in Las Campanas, Chile.

Learn more about the new Japanese X-ray satellite Hitomi, “Pupil of the Eye”.

Learn more about the mysteries of the universe discovered by NASA

Read more about WFIRST here

Discover the Hubble Space Telescope

Learn more about the James Webb Space Telescope here

Discover NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

Learn more about TESS here

Learn what scientists have discovered about dark energy

Discover dark matter here

Discover the Kepler Space Telescope

X-ray Binaries

Space wiki 

Cygnus X-1 was identified in 1971 and is one of the best stellar-mass black-hole candidates. The companion star, shown on the left in this artist's conception, is a 33 solar-mass star. Optical spectroscopy of this star revealed that it had a large radial velocity amplitude of about 50 km/sec. That, combined with a 5.6-day period inferred the mass of the compact object to be more than 15 solar masses. This is well beyond the neutron star mass limit, so we assume it to be a black hole. This artists conception of the Cyg X-1 system shows the outer layers of the companion star being stripped off and transfered via Roche lobe overflow into an accretion disk around the black hole. A torus of material is shown spiralling into the black hole. It is from the hot inner regions of this accretion disk that X-rays are produced.
Cygnus X-1 was identified in 1971 and is one of the best stellar-mass black-hole candidates. The companion star, shown on the left in this artist’s conception, is a 33 solar-mass star. Optical spectroscopy of this star revealed that it had a large radial velocity amplitude of about 50 km/sec. That, combined with a 5.6-day period inferred the mass of the compact object to be more than 15 solar masses. This is well beyond the neutron star mass limit, so we assume it to be a black hole.
This artists conception of the Cyg X-1 system shows the outer layers of the companion star being stripped off and transfered via Roche lobe overflow into an accretion disk around the black hole. A torus of material is shown spiralling into the black hole. It is from the hot inner regions of this accretion disk that X-rays are produced.

X-ray binaries are a special class of binary star system named for the x-rays they emit which have been detected by Earth and space-based telescopes specifically designed and engineered for this purpose. Believed to be composed of a normal star, much like our own Sun, and a collapsed star – white dwarf, neutron star, or black hole – near or at the end of its life cycle, X-ray binaries are often thought of as “zombie stars” feeding off the lifeblood of nearby companion stars. 

Watch this animation of an X-ray binary system, showing material flowing from a companion star to the X-ray emitting accretion disk around a compact stellar object. You’ll need to make sure you have the right software and drivers to view this amazing video. 

Read and learn more about binary stars here.

Learn more about superstar binaries like Eta Carinae.

Discover more about binary stars here.

Read and learn more specifics about X-ray binaries

Take the space journey of NASA across the cosmos here

 

NASA’s NuSTAR Pinpoints Elusive High-energy X-rays of Supermassive Black Holes in COSMOS Field

Heralding the growth of monster black holes pulling in surrounding material while belching out the cosmic x-ray background 

The blue dots in this field of galaxies, known as the COSMOS field, show galaxies that contain supermassive black holes emitting high-energy X-rays. The black holes were detected by NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Array, or NuSTAR, which spotted 32 such black holes in this field and has observed hundreds across the whole sky so far. The other colored dots are galaxies that host black holes emitting lower-energy X-rays, and were spotted by NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory. Chandra data show X-rays with energies between 0.5 to 7 kiloelectron volts, while NuSTAR data show X-rays between 8 to 24 kiloelectron volts. Credits: NASA/Caltech/NuSTAR
The blue dots in this field of galaxies, known as the COSMOS field, show galaxies that contain supermassive black holes emitting high-energy X-rays. The black holes were detected by NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Array, or NuSTAR, which spotted 32 such black holes in this field and has observed hundreds across the whole sky so far.
The other colored dots are galaxies that host black holes emitting lower-energy X-rays,  and were spotted by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory. Chandra data show X-rays with energies between 0.5 to 7 kiloelectron volts, while NuSTAR data show X-rays between 8 to 24 kiloelectron volts. Credits: NASA/Caltech/NuSTAR

Space news (astrophysics: x-ray bursts; detecting high-energy x-rays emitted by supermassive black holes) – searching the COSMOS field for elusive, high-energy x-rays with a high-pitched voice – 

The picture is a combination of infrared data from Spitzer (red) and visible-light data (blue and green) from Japan's Subaru telescope atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii. These data were taken as part of the SPLASH (Spitzer large area survey with Hyper-Suprime-Cam) project. Credits: NASA/JPL/Spitzer/Subaru
The picture is a combination of infrared data from Spitzer (red) and visible-light data (blue and green) from Japan’s Subaru telescope atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii. These data were taken as part of the SPLASH (Spitzer large area survey with Hyper-Suprime-Cam) project. Credits: NASA/JPL/Spitzer/Subaru

Astronomers searching for elusive, high-energy x-rays emitted by supermassive black holes recently made a discovery using NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR). A chorus of high-energy x-rays emitted by millions of supermassive black holes hidden within the cores of galaxies spread across a field of galaxies called the COSMOS field. Singing the elusive, high-pitched song of a phenomenon scientists call the cosmic x-ray background they emitted when they pulled surrounding matter closer. A significant step in resolving the high-energy x-ray background and understanding more about the feeding habits of supermassive black holes as they grow and evolve. 

NuSTAR scans the sky looking at nine galaxies for supermassive black holes. Credits: NASA/NuSTAR/JPL/Caltech
NuSTAR scans the sky looking at nine galaxies for supermassive black holes. Credits: NASA/NuSTAR/JPL/Caltech

“We’ve gone from resolving just two percent of the high-energy X-ray background to 35 percent,” said Fiona Harrison, the principal investigator of NuSTAR at Caltech in Pasadena and lead author of a new study describing the findings in an upcoming issue of The Astrophysical Journal.  “We can see the most obscured black holes, hidden in thick gas and dust.” 

Fiona Harrison, the principal investigator of NuSTAR, has been awarded the top prize in high-energy astrophysics. Image credit: Lance Hayashida/Caltech Marcomm
Fiona Harrison, the principal investigator of NuSTAR, has been awarded the top prize in high-energy astrophysics. Image credit: Lance Hayashida/Caltech Marcomm

The Monster of the Milky Way, the supermassive black hole believed to reside at the core of our galaxy, bulked up by siphoning off surrounding gas and dust in the past and will continue to grow. The data obtained here by NASA’s NuSTAR will help scientists learn more concerning the growth and evolution of black holes and our host galaxy. It will also give astrophysicists more insight into the processes involved the next time the Monster of the Milky Way wakes up and decides to have a little snack. 

This image, not unlike a pointillist painting, shows the star-studded centre of the Milky Way towards the constellation of Sagittarius. The crowded centre of our galaxy contains numerous complex and mysterious objects that are usually hidden at optical wavelengths by clouds of dust — but many are visible here in these infrared observations from Hubble. However, the most famous cosmic object in this image still remains invisible: the monster at our galaxy’s heart called Sagittarius A*. Astronomers have observed stars spinning around this supermassive black hole (located right in the centre of the image), and the black hole consuming clouds of dust as it affects its environment with its enormous gravitational pull. Infrared observations can pierce through thick obscuring material to reveal information that is usually hidden to the optical observer. This is the best infrared image of this region ever taken with Hubble, and uses infrared archive data from Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3, taken in September 2011. It was posted to Flickr by Gabriel Brammer, a fellow at the European Southern Observatory based in Chile. He is also an ESO photo ambassador.
This image, not unlike a pointillist painting, shows the star-studded centre of the Milky Way towards the constellation of Sagittarius. The crowded centre of our galaxy contains numerous complex and mysterious objects that are usually hidden at optical wavelengths by clouds of dust — but many are visible here in these infrared observations from Hubble. However, the most famous cosmic object in this image still remains invisible: the monster at our galaxy’s heart called Sagittarius A*. Astronomers have observed stars spinning around this supermassive black hole (located right in the centre of the image), and the black hole consuming clouds of dust as it affects its environment with its enormous gravitational pull. Infrared observations can pierce through thick obscuring material to reveal information that is usually hidden to the optical observer. This is the best infrared image of this region ever taken with Hubble, and uses infrared archive data from Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3, taken in September 2011. It was posted to Flickr by Gabriel Brammer, a fellow at the European Southern Observatory based in Chile. He is also an ESO photo ambassador.

“Before NuSTAR, the X-ray background in high energies was just one blur with no resolved sources,” said Harrison. “To untangle what’s going on, you have to pinpoint and count up the individual sources of the X-rays.” 

NASA’s NuSTAR’s the first telescope capable of focusing high-energy x-rays into a sharp image, but it only gives us part of the picture. Additional research’s required to clear up the picture a little more and give us a better view of the real singers in the choir. NuSTAR should allow astronomers to decipher individual voices of x-ray singers in one of the cosmos’ rowdiest choirs. 

“We knew this cosmic choir had a strong high-pitched component, but we still don’t know if it comes from a lot of smaller, quiet singers, or a few with loud voices,” said co-author Daniel Stern, the project scientist for NuSTAR at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “Now, thanks to NuSTAR, we’re gaining a better understanding of the black holes and starting to address these questions.” 

Daniel Stern NuSTAR Project Scientist. Credits: NASA
Daniel Stern
NuSTAR Project Scientist. Credits: NASA

What’s next?

Astronomers plan on collecting more data on the high-energy x-ray choir of the COSMOS field, which should help clear up a few mysteries surrounding the birth, growth, and evolution of black holes. Hopefully, it gives also gives us more clues to many of the mysteries we discover during the human journey to the beginning of space and time. 

Read more about active supermassive black holes found at the center of galaxies.

Learn more about the Unified Theory of Active Supermassive Black Holes.

Learn about magnetic lines of force emanating from supermassive black holes.

You can learn more about the COSMOS field here

Journey across spacetime aboard the telescopes of NASA

Discover NASA’s NuSTAR here

Learn more about the work of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Read and learn more about the Monster of the Milky Way here