NuSTAR spots flare from our galaxy’s black hole

NuSTAR is the first scope capable of capturing images of high-energy X-rays

 

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Credit:NASA/JPL-Caltech

Our galaxy's black hole grows visibly brighter as it expels high-energy X-rays.


A black hole rages at the centre of our galaxy. But in the relative calm of our planetary neighbourhood it's more a cosmic phenomenon than treacherous region of space. That hasn't stopped NASA’s latest space telescope, the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR), capturing its first glimpse of a high-energy flare bursting out from the Milky Way’s dark heart.

The X-ray space telescope launched in June, beamed back images of the flare emanating from our galaxy’s black hole, Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*), during a two-day observing session in July.

The session was not a solitary event, other powerful telescopes, including the Chandra X-ray Observatory and the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii, joined NASA’s newest addition in a star party of epic proportions.

But it’s NuSTAR’s capability to produce focused images of the highest-energy (hard) X-rays that has got astronomers most excited, after recent observations by Chandra suggested X-rays in this wavelength were expelled by black holes after they 'snacked' consumed fuel in the form of gas, dust and stars.

“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.

When combined with observations taken at other wavelengths, data from NuSTAR will help astronomers better understand how black holes consumed material and grow in size.


 

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