Sep. 9, 2013 — NASA’s black-hole-hunter spacecraft, the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, has “bagged” its first 10 supermassive black holes. The mission, which has a mast the length of a school bus, is the first telescope capable of focusing the highest-energy X-ray light into detailed pictures.
The new black-hole finds are the first of hundreds expected from the mission over the next two years. These gargantuan structures — black holes surrounded by thick disks of gas — lie at the hearts of distant galaxies between 0.3 and 11.4 billion light-years from Earth.
“We found the black holes serendipitously,” explained David Alexander, a NuSTAR team member based in the Department of Physics at Durham University in England and lead author of a new study appearing Aug. 20 in The Astrophysical Journal. “We were looking at known targets and spotted the black holes in the background of the images.”
Additional serendipitous finds such as these are expected for the mission. Along with the mission’s more targeted surveys of selected patches of sky, the NuSTAR team plans to comb through hundreds of images taken by the telescope with the goal of finding black holes caught in the background.
Aug. 29, 2013 — Astronomers using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory have taken a major step in explaining why material around the giant black hole at the center of the Milky Way Galaxy is extraordinarily faint in X-rays. This discovery holds important implications for understanding black holes.
New Chandra images of Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*), which is located about 26,000 light-years from Earth, indicate that less than 1 percent of the gas initially within Sgr A*’s gravitational grasp ever reaches the point of no return, also called the event horizon. Instead, much of the gas is ejected before it gets near the event horizon and has a chance to brighten, leading to feeble X-ray emissions.
These new findings are the result of one of the longest observation campaigns ever performed with Chandra. The spacecraft collected five weeks’ worth of data on Sgr A* in 2012. The researchers used this observation period to capture unusually detailed and sensitive X-ray images and energy signatures of super-heated gas swirling around Sgr A*, whose mass is about 4 million times that of the sun.
Astronomers have found a galaxy whose super-luminous nucleus–called a quasar–is burning 100 times as much energy as the entire Milky Way galaxy.
Though theory has long predicted that quasars this powerful should exist, the newly-discovered object, known as SDSS J1106+1939, is by far the most energetic ever observed. The quasar is powered by a supermassive black hole that lies at its center.
ScienceDaily (Oct. 23, 2012) — NASA’s newest set of X-ray eyes in the sky, the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR), has caught its first look at the giant black hole parked at the center of our galaxy. The observations show the typically mild-mannered black hole during the middle of a flare-up.
“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.”
The new images can be seen by visiting: http://www.nasa.gov/nustar .
The name of this thing is AFGL 3068. It’s been known as a bright infrared source for some time, but images just showed it as a dot. This Hubble image using the Advanced Camera for Surveys reveals an intricate, delicate and exceedingly faint spiral pattern. It’s so faint no one has ever detected it before!
So what’s going on here? First off, this is not a spiral galaxy! It’s a binary star*, two stars that orbit each other, located about 3000 light years away from us. One of the stars is what’s called a carbon star, similar to the Sun but much older. The Sun is still happily fusing hydrogen into helium in its core, but older stars run out of available hydrogen. Eventually, they fuse helium into carbon. When this happens the star swells up and becomes a red giant (note: that’s the brief version; the actual events are a tad more complicated).
With its all-sky infrared survey, NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, has identified millions of quasar candidates. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA
(Phys.org)—NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission has led to a bonanza of newfound supermassive black holes and extreme galaxies called hot DOGs, or dust-obscured galaxies.
Images from the telescope have revealed millions of dusty black hole candidates across the universe and about 1,000 even dustier objects thought to be among the brightest galaxies ever found. These powerful galaxies, which burn brightly with infrared light, are nicknamed hot DOGs.
“WISE has exposed a menagerie of hidden objects,” said Hashima Hasan, WISE program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “We’ve found an asteroid dancing ahead of Earth in its orbit, the coldest star-like orbs known and now, supermassive black holes and galaxies hiding behind cloaks of dust.”
WISE scanned the whole sky twice in infrared light, completing its survey in early 2011. Like night-vision goggles probing the dark, the telescope captured millions of images of the sky. All the data from the mission have been released publicly, allowing astronomers to dig in and make new discoveries.
July 10, 2012
ScienceDaily (July 9, 2012) — Observations with CSIRO’s Australia Telescope Compact Array have confirmed that astronomers have found the first known “middleweight” black hole.
Outbursts of super-hot gas observed with a CSIRO radio telescope have clinched the identity of the first known “middleweight” black hole, Science Express reports.
Called HLX-1 (“hyper-luminous X-ray source 1”), the black hole lies in a galaxy called ESO 243-49, about 300 million light-years away.
Before it was found, astronomers had good evidence for only supermassive black holes — ones a million to a billion times the mass of the Sun — and “stellar mass” ones, three to thirty times the mass of the Sun.
“This is the first object that we’re really sure is an intermediate-mass black hole,” said Dr Sean Farrell, an ARC Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Sydney and a member of the research team, which included astronomers from France, Australia, the UK and the USA.