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  • richardmitnick 3:13 pm on June 19, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , NASA SWIFT   

    From NASA/Swift: “NASA’s Swift Satellite Tallies Water Production of Mars-bound Comet” 

    NASA Swift Banner

    NASA SWIFT Telescope

    NASA Swift

    June 19, 2014
    Francis Reddy, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland

    In late May, NASA’s Swift satellite imaged comet Siding Spring, which will brush astonishingly close to Mars later this year. These optical and ultraviolet observations are the first to reveal how rapidly the comet is producing water and allow astronomers to better estimate its size.

    “Comet Siding Spring is making its first passage through the inner solar system and is experiencing its first strong heating from the sun,” said lead researcher Dennis Bodewits, an astronomer at the University of Maryland College Park (UMCP). “These observations are part of a two-year-long Swift campaign to watch how the comet’s activity develops during its travels.”

    “Fresh” comets like Siding Spring, which is formally known as C/2013 A1, contain some of the most ancient material scientists can study. The solid part of a comet, called its nucleus, is a clump of frozen gases mixed with dust and is often described as a “dirty snowball.” Comets cast off gas and dust whenever they venture near enough to the sun.

    What powers this activity is the transformation of frozen material from solid ice to gas, a process called sublimation. As the comet approaches the sun and becomes heated, different gases stream from the nucleus, carrying with them large quantities of dust that reflect sunlight and brighten the comet. By about two and a half times Earth’s distance from the sun (2.5 astronomical units, or AU), the comet has warmed enough that water becomes the primary gas emitted by the nucleus.

    Between May 27 and 29, Swift’s Ultraviolet/Optical Telescope (UVOT) captured a sequence of images as comet Siding Spring cruised through the constellation Eridanus at a distance of about 2.46 AU (229 million miles or 368 million km) from the sun. While the UVOT cannot detect water molecules directly, it can detect light emitted by fragments formed when ultraviolet sunlight breaks up water — specifically, hydrogen atoms and hydroxyl (OH) molecules.

    “Based on our observations, we calculate that at the time of the observations the comet was producing about 2 billion billion billion water molecules, equivalent to about 13 gallons or 49 liters, each second,” said team member Tony Farnham, a senior research scientist at UMCP. At this rate, comet Siding Spring could fill an Olympic-size swimming pool in about 14 hours. Impressive as it sounds, though, this is relatively modest water emission compared to other comets Swift has observed.

    Based on these measurements, the team concludes that the icy nucleus of comet Siding Spring is only about 2,300 feet (700 meters) across, placing it at the lower end of a size range estimated from earlier observations by other spacecraft.

    The comet makes its closest approach to Mars on Oct. 19, passing just 86,000 miles (138,000 km) from the Red Planet — so close that gas and dust in the outermost reaches of the comet’s atmosphere, or coma, will interact with the atmosphere of Mars.

    For comparison, the closest recorded Earth approach by a comet was by the now-defunct comet Lexell, which on July 1, 1770, swept to within 1.4 million miles (2.3 million km) or about six times farther than the moon. During its Mars flyby, comet Siding Spring will pass more than 16 times closer than this.

    Scientists have established that the comet poses no danger to spacecraft now in orbit around Mars. These missions will be pressed into service as a provisional comet observation fleet to take advantage of this unprecedented opportunity.

    The Swift observations are part of a larger study to investigate the activity and evolution of new comets, which show distinct brightening characteristics as they approach the sun not seen in other comets. Bodewits and his colleagues single out comets that can be observed by Swift at distances where water has not yet become the primary gas and repeatedly observe them as they course through the inner solar system. This systematic study will help astronomers better understand how comet activity changes with repeated solar heating.

    See the full article here.

    The Swift Gamma-Ray Burst Mission consists of a robotic spacecraft called Swift, which was launched into orbit on November 20, 2004, at 17:16:00 UTC on a Delta II 7320-10C expendable launch vehicle. Swift is managed by the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, and was developed by an international consortium from the United States, United Kingdom, and Italy. It is part of NASA’s Medium Explorer Program (MIDEX).


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  • richardmitnick 5:53 am on January 25, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From NASA/Swift: “NASA Spacecraft Take Aim At Nearby Supernova” 

    NASA Swift Banner

    NASA Swift

    Jan. 24, 2014
    Francis Reddy
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

    An exceptionally close stellar explosion discovered on Jan. 21 has become the focus of observatories around and above the globe, including several NASA spacecraft. The blast, designated SN 2014J, occurred in the galaxy M82 and lies only about 12 million light-years away. This makes it the nearest optical supernova in two decades and potentially the closest type Ia supernova to occur during the life of currently operating space missions.

    blast

    To make the most of the event, astronomers have planned observations with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR), Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, and Swift missions.

    As befits its moniker, Swift was the first to take a look. On Jan. 22, just a day after the explosion was discovered, Swift’s Ultraviolet/Optical Telescope (UVOT) captured the supernova and its host galaxy.

    uvot
    Swift’s Ultraviolet/Optical Telescope (UVOT)

    Remarkably, SN 2014J can be seen on images taken up to a week before anyone noticed its presence. It was only when Steve Fossey and his students at the University of London Observatory imaged the galaxy during a brief workshop that the supernova came to light.

    “Finding and publicizing new supernova discoveries is often the weak link in obtaining rapid observations, but once we know about it, Swift frequently can observe a new object within hours,” said Neil Gehrels, the mission’s principal investigator at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

    Although the explosion is unusually close, the supernova’s light is attenuated by thick dust clouds in its galaxy, which may slightly reduce its apparent peak brightness.

    “Interstellar dust preferentially scatters blue light, which is why Swift’s UVOT sees SN 2014J brightly in visible and near-ultraviolet light but barely at all at mid-ultraviolet wavelengths,” said Peter Brown, an astrophysicist at Texas A&M University who leads a team using Swift to obtain ultraviolet observations of supernovae.

    However, this super-close supernova provides astronomers with an important opportunity to study how interstellar dust affects its light. As a class, type Ia supernovae explode with remarkably similar intrinsic brightness, a property that makes them useful “standard candles” — some say “standard bombs” — for exploring the distant universe.

    el
    Extragalactic Distance Ladder

    Brown notes that X-rays have never been conclusively observed from a type Ia supernova, so a detection by Swift’s X-ray Telescope, Chandra or NuSTAR would be significant, as would a Fermi detection of high-energy gamma rays.

    A type Ia supernova represents the total destruction of a white dwarf star by one of two possible scenarios. In one, the white dwarf orbits a normal star, pulls a stream of matter from it, and gains mass until it reaches a critical threshold and explodes. In the other, the blast arises when two white dwarfs in a binary system eventually spiral inward and collide.

    Either way, the explosion produces a superheated shell of plasma that expands outward into space at tens of millions of miles an hour. Short-lived radioactive elements formed during the blast keep the shell hot as it expands. The interplay between the shell’s size, transparency and radioactive heating determines when the supernova reaches peak brightness. Astronomers expect SN 2014J to continue brightening into the first week of February, by which time it may be visible in binoculars.

    M82, also known as the Cigar Galaxy, is located in the constellation Ursa Major and is a popular target for small telescopes. M82 is undergoing a powerful episode of star formation that makes it many times brighter than our own Milky Way galaxy and accounts for its unusual and photogenic appearance.

    See the full article here.

    The Swift Gamma-Ray Burst Mission consists of a robotic spacecraft called Swift, which was launched into orbit on November 20, 2004, at 17:16:00 UTC on a Delta II 7320-10C expendable launch vehicle. Swift is managed by the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, and was developed by an international consortium from the United States, United Kingdom, and Italy. It is part of NASA’s Medium Explorer Program (MIDEX).


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  • richardmitnick 5:29 pm on January 8, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , NASA SWIFT   

    From NASA/Swift: “NASA’s Swift Catches X-ray Action at Milky Way’s Center” 

    NASA Swift Banner

    NASA Swift

    Jan. 8, 2014
    J.D. Harrington
    Headquarters, Washington
    202-358-5241
    j.d.harrington@nasa.gov

    Francis Reddy / Lynn Chandler
    Goddard Space Flight Center
    301-286-4453 / 301-286-2806
    francis.j.reddy@nasa.gov / lynn.chandler-1@nasa.gov

    Recent observations by NASA’s Swift spacecraft have provided scientists a unique glimpse into the activity at the center of our galaxy and led to the discovery of a rare celestial entity that may help them test predictions of Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

    This week, at the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society in National Harbor, Md., scientists presented their research into images captured by Swift, explaining how these images will help decipher the physical nature of X-ray flares and enabled their discovery of a rare subclass of neutron star.

    xray
    This X-ray image of the galactic center merges Swift XRT observations through 2013. Sgr A* is at center. Low-energy X-rays (300 to 1,500 electron volts) are shown in red, medium-energy (1,500 to 3,000 eV) in green, and high-energy (3,000 to 10,000 eV) in blue. The total exposure time is 12.6 days.
    Image Credit: NASA/Swift/N. Degenaar (Univ. of Michigan)

    Swift’s seven-year campaign to monitor the center of the Milky Way has doubled the number of images available to scientists of bright X-ray flares occurring at the galaxy’s central black hole, dubbed Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*).

    Sgr A* sits in the center of the Milky Way’s innermost region, 26,000 light-years away in the direction of the constellation Sagittarius. Its mass is at least 4 million times that of the sun. Despite its considerable size, it is not nearly as bright as it could be if it was more active, according to one expert.

    “Given its size, this supermassive black hole is about a billion times fainter than it could be,” said Nathalie Degenaar, principal investigator on the Swift galactic center campaign and an astronomer at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. “Though it’s sedate now, it was quite active in the past and still regularly produces brief X-ray flares today.”

    To better understand the black hole’s behavior over time, the Swift team began making regular observations of the Milky Way’s center in February 2006. Every few days, the Swift spacecraft turns toward the innermost region of the galaxy and takes a 17-minute-long snapshot with its X-ray Telescope (XRT).

    To date, Swift’s XRT has detected six bright flares during which the black hole’s X-ray emission was as much as 150 times brighter for a couple of hours. These new detections enabled the team to estimate that similar flares occur every five to 10 days. Scientists will look at differences between the outbursts to decipher their physical nature.

    The Swift XRT team expects 2014 to be a banner year for the campaign. A cold gas cloud named G2, about three times the mass of Earth, will pass near Sgr A* and already is being affected by tides from the black hole’s powerful gravitational field. Astronomers expect G2 will swing so close to the black hole during the second quarter of the year that it will heat up to the point where it produces X-rays.

    If some of the cloud’s gas actually reaches Sgr A*, astronomers may witness a significant increase in activity from the black hole. The event will unfold over the next few years, giving scientists a front-row seat to study the phenomena.

    “Astronomers around the world are eagerly awaiting the first sign that this interaction has begun,” said Jamie Kennea, a team member at Pennsylvania State University in University Park, Pa. “With the invaluable help of Swift, our monitoring program may well provide that indicator.”

    Scientists saw what they thought was a sign in April, when Swift detected a powerful high-energy burst and a dramatic rise in the X-ray brightness of the Sgr A* region. They were excited to discover the activity came from separate source very near the black hole: a rare subclass of neutron star.

    A neutron star is the crushed core of a star destroyed by a supernova explosion, packing the equivalent mass of a half-million Earths into a sphere no wider than Washington. The neutron star, named SGR J1745-29, is a magnetar, meaning its magnetic field is thousands of times stronger than an average neutron star. Only 26 magnetars have been identified to date.

    The discovery of SGR J1745-29 may aid scientists in their exploration of important properties of the Sgr A* black hole. As it spins, the magnetar emits regular X-ray and radio pulses. As it orbits Sgr A*, astronomers could detect subtle changes in the pulse timing because of the black hole’s gravitational field, a prediction of Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

    “This long-term program has reaped many scientific rewards, and due to a combination of the spacecraft’s flexibility and the sensitivity of its XRT, Swift is the only satellite that can carry out such a campaign,” said Neil Gehrels, the mission’s principal investigator at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

    See the full article here.

    The Swift Gamma-Ray Burst Mission consists of a robotic spacecraft called Swift, which was launched into orbit on November 20, 2004, at 17:16:00 UTC on a Delta II 7320-10C expendable launch vehicle. Swift is managed by the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, and was developed by an international consortium from the United States, United Kingdom, and Italy. It is part of NASA’s Medium Explorer Program (MIDEX).


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  • richardmitnick 1:36 pm on May 29, 2013 Permalink | Reply
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    From NASA Swift: “NASA’s Swift Reveals New Phenomenon in a Neutron Star” 

    NASA Swift Banner

    NASA SWIFT Telescope

    “Astronomers using NASA’s Swift X-ray Telescope have observed a spinning neutron star suddenly slowing down, yielding clues they can use to understand these extremely dense objects.

    rend
    An artist’s rendering of an outburst on an ultra-magnetic neutron star, also called a magnetar.
    Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

    A neutron star is the crushed core of a massive star that ran out of fuel, collapsed under its own weight, and exploded as a supernova. A neutron star can spin as fast as 43,000 times per minute and boast a magnetic field a trillion times stronger than Earth’s. Matter within a neutron star is so dense a teaspoonful would weigh about a billion tons on Earth.

    star
    Credit: ESA/XMM-Newton/M. Sasaki et a

    The magnetar 1E 2259+586 shines a brilliant blue-white in this false-color X-ray image of the CTB 109 supernova remnant, which lies about 10,000 light-years away toward the constellation Cassiopeia. CTB 109 is only one of three supernova remnants in our galaxy known to harbor a magnetar. X-rays at low, medium and high energies are respectively shown in red, green, and blue in this image created from observations acquired by the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton satellite in 2002.

    ESA XMM Newton

    See the full article here.

    Swift is a first-of-its-kind multi-wavelength observatory dedicated to the study of gamma-ray burst (GRB) science. Its three instruments will work together to observe GRBs and afterglows in the gamma ray, X-ray, ultraviolet, and optical wavebands. The main mission objectives for Swift are to:

    Determine the origin of gamma-ray bursts
    Classify gamma-ray bursts and search for new types
    Determine how the blastwave evolves and interacts with the surroundings
    Use gamma-ray bursts to study the early universe
    Perform the first sensitive hard X-ray survey of the sky

    NASA


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  • richardmitnick 4:02 pm on April 19, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , NASA SWIFT,   

    From NASA 

    NASA Science Science News

    April 19, 2013

    Anticipation is building as Comet ISON plunges into the inner solar system for a close encounter with the sun in November 2013. Blasted at point-blank range by solar radiation, the sungrazer will likely become one of the finest comets in many years.

    When NASA’s Swift spacecraft observed the comet in January 2013, it was still near the orbit of Jupiter, but already very active. More than 112,000 pounds of dust were spewing from the comet’s nucleus every minute.

    NASA SWIFT Telescope
    NASA SWIFT

    It turns out, some of that dust might end up on Earth.

    Veteran meteor researcher Paul Wiegert of the University of Western Ontario has been using a computer to model the trajectory of dust ejected by Comet ISON, and his findings suggest that an unusual meteor shower could be in the offing.

    ‘For several days around January 12, 2014, Earth will pass through a stream of fine-grained debris from Comet ISON,’ says Wiegert. ‘The resulting shower could have some interesting properties.

    According to Wiegert’s computer models, the debris stream is populated with extremely tiny grains of dust, no more than a few microns wide, pushed toward Earth by the gentle radiation pressure of the sun. They will be hitting at a speed of 56 km/s or 125,000 mph. Because the particles are so small, Earth’s upper atmosphere will rapidly slow them to a stop.

    ‘Instead of burning up in a flash of light, they will drift gently down to the Earth below,’ he says.

    Don’t expect to notice. The invisible rain of comet dust, if it occurs, would be very slow. It can take months or even years for fine dust to settle out of the high atmosphere.

    See the full article here.

    And now, a neat video from NASA

    NASA leads the nation on a great journey of discovery, seeking new knowledge and understanding of our planet Earth, our Sun and solar system, and the universe out to its farthest reaches and back to its earliest moments of existence. NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) and the nation’s science community use space observatories to conduct scientific studies of the Earth from space to visit and return samples from other bodies in the solar system, and to peer out into our Galaxy and beyond. NASA’s science program seeks answers to profound questions that touch us all:

    This is NASA’s science vision: using the vantage point of space to achieve with the science community and our partners a deep scientific understanding of our planet, other planets and solar system bodies, the interplanetary environment, the Sun and its effects on the solar system, and the universe beyond. In so doing, we lay the intellectual foundation for the robotic and human expeditions of the future while meeting today’s needs for scientific information to address national concerns, such as climate change and space weather. At every step we share the journey of scientific exploration with the public and partner with others to substantially improve science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education nationwide.

    NASA


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  • richardmitnick 3:36 pm on March 15, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , NASA SWIFT,   

    From NASA Chandra “G306.3-0.9: NASA’s Swift, Chandra Explore a Youthful ‘Star Wreck'” 

    NASA Chandra

    “A newly discovered supernova remnant by Swift in the Milky Way is among the youngest known. Scientists used Chandra to follow up with the initial discovery, learning more about the remnant’s properties. This supernova remnant, dubbed G306.3-0.9, is located about 26,000 light years from Earth.

    comp
    Composite

    xray
    X-ray

    infra
    Infrared

    rad
    Radio

    Credit X-ray: NASA/CXC/Univ of Michigan/M.Reynolds et al; Infrared: NASA/JPL-Caltech; Radio: CSIRO/ATNF/ATCA
    Release Date March 15, 2013
    Observation Date 02 June 2011
    Observation Time 1 hours 23 min

    While performing an extensive X-ray survey of our galaxy’s central regions, NASA’s Swift satellite has uncovered the previously unknown remains of a shattered star. Designated G306.3-0.9 after the coordinates of its sky position, the new object ranks among the youngest-known supernova remnants in our Milky Way galaxy

    mw
    Milky Way

    …This composite of supernova remnant G306.3-0.9 merges Chandra X-ray observations (blue), infrared data acquired by the Spitzer Space Telescope (red and cyan) and radio observations (purple) from the Australia Telescope Compact Array. The image is 20 arcminutes across, which corresponds to 150 light-years at the remnant’s estimated distance.

    sn
    Wide-field Images of G306.3-0.9.

    The Swift Galactic Plane Survey is a project to image a two-degree-wide strip along the Milky Way’s central plane at X-ray and ultraviolet energies at the same time. Imaging began in 2011 and is expected to complete this summer.

    The Swift survey leverages infrared imaging previously compiled by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and extends it into higher energies. The infrared and X-ray surveys complement each other because light at these energies penetrates dust clouds in the galactic plane, while the ultraviolet survey of the region is the first one ever done.

    To further investigate the object, the team followed up with an 83-minute exposure using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and additional radio observations from the Australia Telescope Compact Array.”

    See the full article here.

    Chandra X-ray Center, Operated for NASA by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory
    Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory


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  • richardmitnick 9:21 pm on December 13, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , , , NASA SWIFT,   

    From NASA Swift and Fermi – “Study Reveals a Remarkable Symmetry in Black Hole Jets” 

    NASA Fermi Small
    Fermi

    NASA SWIFT Telescope
    Swift

    Black holes range from modest objects formed when individual stars end their lives to behemoths billions of times more massive that rule the centers of galaxies. A new study using data from NASA’s Swift satellite and Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope shows that high-speed jets launched from active black holes possess fundamental similarities regardless of mass, age or environment. The result provides a tantalizing hint that common physical processes are at work.

    tri image
    Astronomers examining the properties of black hole jets compared 54 gamma-ray bursts (GRB’s) with 234 active galaxies classified as blazars and quasars. Surprisingly, the power and brightness of the jets share striking similarities despite a wide range of black hole mass, age and environment. Regardless of these differences, the jets produce light by tapping into similar percentages of the kinetic energy of particles moving along the jet, suggesting a common underlying physical cause.

    Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

    The particles in some GRB jets have been clocked at speeds exceeding 99.9 percent the speed of light. When the jet breaches the star’s surface, it produces a pulse of gamma rays typically lasting a few seconds. Satellites like Swift and Fermi can detect this emission if the jet is approximately directed toward us.

    To search for a trend across a wide range of masses, the scientists looked at the galactic-scale equivalent of GRB jets. These come from the brightest classes of active galaxies, blazars and quasars, which sport jets that likewise happen to point our way.

    To match the amount of energy given off by a typical blazar in one second, the sun must shine for 317,000 years. To equal the energy a run-of-the-mill GRB puts out in one second, the sun would need to shine for another 3 billion years.

    The finding simplifies astronomers’ understanding of black holes by showing that their activity is governed by the same set of rules — whatever they happen to be — independent of mass, age, or the jet’s brightness and power. The jets tap into similar fractions — between 3 and 15 percent — of the energy wrapped up in the motion of their accelerated particles to power the emission of gamma rays and other forms of light.”

    See the full article here.

    NASA Fermi Banner

    Fermi Space Telescope: Exploring the Extreme Universe
    Fermi is a powerful space observatory that will open a wide window on the universe. Gamma rays are the highest-energy form of light, and the gamma-ray sky is spectacularly different from the one we perceive with our own eyes. With a huge leap in all key capabilities, Fermi data will enable scientists to answer persistent questions across a broad range of topics, including supermassive black-hole systems, pulsars, the origin of cosmic rays, and searches for signals of new physics.

    The mission is an astrophysics and particle physics partnership, developed by NASA in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy, along with important contributions from academic institutions and partners in France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Sweden, and the United States.

    NASA Swift Banner

    Swift is a first-of-its-kind multi-wavelength observatory dedicated to the study of gamma-ray burst (GRB) science. Its three instruments will work together to observe GRBs and afterglows in the gamma ray, X-ray, ultraviolet, and optical wavebands. The main mission objectives for Swift are to:

    Determine the origin of gamma-ray bursts
    Classify gamma-ray bursts and search for new types
    Determine how the blastwave evolves and interacts with the surroundings
    Use gamma-ray bursts to study the early universe
    Perform the first sensitive hard X-ray survey of the sky

    NASA Goddard

    NASA


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  • richardmitnick 12:32 pm on February 18, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , , NASA SWIFT,   

    From NASA Chandra: “NASA’s Chandra Finds Youngest Nearby Black Hole” 


    The Chandra X-ray Observatory

    SN 1979C, a supernova in the galaxy M100, may be the youngest black hole in the so-called local Universe a.k.a Local Group]. This composite image shows a supernova within the galaxy M100 that may contain the youngest known black hole in our cosmic neighborhood.

    com
    Composite

    xry
    X-ray

    infr
    Infrared

    opt
    Optical

    In this image, Chandra’s X-rays are colored gold, while optical data from ESO’s Very Large Telescope are shown in yellow-white and blue, and infrared data from Spitzer are red.

    SN 1979C was first reported to be seen by an amateur astronomer in 1979. The galaxy M100 is located in the Virgo Cluster about 50 million light years from Earth. This approximately 30-year age, plus its relatively close distance, makes SN 1979C the nearest example where the birth of a black hole has been observed, if the interpretation by the scientists is correct.

    Data from Chandra, as well as NASA’s Swift, the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton and the German ROSAT observatory revealed a bright source of X-rays that has remained steady for the 12 years from 1995 to 2007 over which it has been observed. This behavior and the X-ray spectrum, or distribution of X-rays with energy, support the idea that the object in SN 1979C is a black hole being fed either by material falling back into the black hole after the supernova, or from a binary companion.”

    See the full article here.

     
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