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

 

 

NASA’s Explorers Program Selects Five Proposals to Explore the Cosmos

New programs selected will study neutron star-black hole binary systems, the expansion of space and galaxies in the early cosmos, the star formation cycle of the Milky Way and more

The Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR), launched in 2012, is an Explorer mission that allows astronomers to study the universe in high energy X-rays. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech
The Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR), launched in 2012, is an Explorer mission that allows astronomers to study the universe in high energy X-rays.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Space news (October 29, 2015) – NASA Headquarters, Washington, D.C. –

NASA’s Explorers Program was designed in the spirit of the first explorers who traveled across the deep, dark and mysterious oceans and lands in search of the unknown. Thousands of years ago, archaeologists believe ancient humans used the stars, ocean currents and waves to navigate across the seas to new lands. Today, astronauts and scientists taking part in NASA’s Explorers Program travel across space-time to stellar objects in the sky using scientific instruments and spacecraft ancient humans would perceive as God-like. 

NASA’s Explorers Program began with the launch of the first spacecraft designed by engineers and scientists working for the Army Ballistic Missile Agency on January 31, 1958, making it the oldest continuously running low-cost NASA program in history. Fittingly called “Explorer”, since this first spacecraft over 90 space missions to the stars have been designed and launched as part of the Explorers Program. Space missions to the stars that have made startling discoveries about Earth’s magnetosphere and gravity field, the composition of the solar wind and solar plasma erupting from the surface of the Sun. They have traveled to other planets in the solar system and studied radio and gamma-ray astronomy, and in the future will enable the human journey to the beginning of space and time.

NASA recently announced five less-expensive Explorers Program missions designed to the fill the scientific and technical gaps their more involved and expensive space missions. The selected space missions will examine polarized X-ray emissions emitted by binary star systems composed of a neutron star and black hole and the expansion of spacetime during the early moments of the universe. They’ll also take a closer look at the formation of galaxies during the first moments of the cosmos and the birth and life cycle of stars in the Milky Way.

Located in the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD, the Explorers Program provides an opportunity for human robotic-envoys to make frequent trips into space for scientific explorations of the solar system and cosmos. Relatively low-cost, small to medium size space missions requiring fewer resources and time compared to larger missions to get off the drawing board and into space.

The Explorers Program brings out some of the most creative ideas for missions to help unravel the mysteries of the Universe,” said John Grunsfeld, NASA’s Associate Administrator for Science at NASA Headquarters, in Washington. “The program has resulted in great missions that have returned transformational science, and these selections promise to continue that tradition.”

Now, each of the three selected Small Explorers mission proposals will receive $1 million to conduct an 11-month mission concept study, while the two Missions of Opportunity proposals receive $250,000 to conduct an 11-month mission implementation concept study. 

During the months ahead, NASA scientists will conduct concept studies and detailed evaluations of each proposal selected. After this, they’ll select one mission of each type to proceed to construction and launch, by 2020 at the earliest. In the end, the total cost for this part of the Explorers Program is capped at just around $190 million for the two missions selected: $125 million for each Small Explorers mission and $65 million for each Mission of Opportunity.

The three Small Explorers Program missions selected are:

SPHEREx

SPHEREx explores the origin and evolution of the cosmos and galaxies in the sky and the possibility planets around other stars could harbor life.

James Bock of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California is the main scientist on this mission.

Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE)

IXPE studies the processes leading to X-ray emission in neutron stars, pulsar wind nebulae, and stellar and supermassive black holes using X-ray polarimetry, the measurement, and interpretation of the polarization of electromagnetic waves. 

Martin Weisskopf of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama is the main scientist on this project.

Polarimeter for Relativistic Astrophysical X-ray Sources (PRAXyS)

PRAXyS uses X-ray polarimetry to study the geometry and behavior of X-ray sources emitted from supermassive black holes, pulsars, magnetars and supernovae.

The two Missions of Opportunity proposals selected are:

Gal/Xgal U/LDB Spectroscopic/Stratospheric THz Observatory (GUSTO)

GUSTO is an observatory held aloft by a balloon designed to detect high-frequency radio emission from sources in our Milky Way and the Large Magellanic Cloud in order to study the life cycle of interstellar material.

Christopher Walker of the University of Arizona in Tucson is the main scientists on this mission.

LiteBIRD Cosmic Microwave Background Polarization Survey

LiteBIRD is a Japanese space mission with US contributions designed to map polarized fluctuations in the Cosmic Microwave Background in order to search for signs of gravitation waves created during inflation in an effort to better understand the events that occurred during the first moments of the cosmos. 

Adrian Lee of the University of California at Berkeley is a main scientist on this mission.

For more information on NASA’s Explorers Program, go here.

To learn more about NASA’s mandate to travel to the stars and beyond visit here.

Learn more about the Goddard Space Flight Center here.

Discover and explore the Marshall Space Flight Center here

Learn more about the supermassive black hole astronomers believe resides at the center of the Milky Way – the Monster of the Milky Way.

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft recently arrived at Pluto and its moons. Learn more about what they found?

Read about and learn the things astronomers have discovered during their search for the missing link in black hole evolution.