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  • richardmitnick 4:11 pm on July 6, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , NASA NuSTAR   

    From JPL: “NuSTAR Stares Deep into Hidden Lairs of Black Holes” 

    JPL

    July 6, 2015
    Whitney Clavin
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California
    818-354-4673
    whitney.clavin@jpl.nasa.gov

    1
    Top: An illustration of NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, in orbit. The unique school bus-long mast allows NuSTAR to focus high energy X-rays.

    Lower-left: A color image from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope of one of the nine galaxies targeted by NuSTAR in search of hidden black holes.

    Bottom-right: An artist’s illustration of a supermassive black hole, actively feasting on its surroundings. The central black hole is hidden from direct view by a thick layer of encircling gas and dust.

    Some of the “biggest and baddest” black holes around are buried under thick blankets of gas and dust. These monsters in the middle of galaxies are actively devouring material, but their hidden nature makes observing them a challenge.

    NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) recently caught a glimpse of five of these secluded beasts. While hidden from view from most other telescopes, NuSTAR can spot them by detecting the highest-energy X-rays, which can penetrate through the enshrouding gas and dust.

    The research, led by astronomers at Durham University, United Kingdom, supports the theory that potentially millions of supermassive black holes exist in the universe hidden from view. The findings were presented today, July 6, at the Royal Astronomical Society’s National Astronomy Meeting in Llandudno, Wales.

    The scientists pointed NuSTAR at nine galaxies where supermassive black holes were thought to be extremely active but largely obscured. Five of these candidates were found to contain hidden supermassive black holes, feasting on surrounding material. What’s more, the objects were observed to be more active than previously thought.

    Such observations were not possible before NuSTAR, which launched in 2012 and is able to detect much higher-energy X-rays than previous satellite observatories.

    “Thanks to NuSTAR, for the first time, we have been able to clearly identify these hidden monsters that are predicted to be there, but have previously been elusive because of their surrounding cocoons of material,” said George Lansbury of Durham University, lead author of the findings accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal.

    “Although we have only detected five of these hidden supermassive black holes, when we extrapolate our results across the whole universe, then the predicted numbers are huge and in agreement with what we would expect to see.”

    Daniel Stern, the project scientist for NuSTAR at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, added: “High-energy X-rays are more penetrating than low-energy X-rays, so we can see deeper into the gas burying the black holes. NuSTAR allows us to see how big the hidden monsters are, and is helping us learn why only some black holes appear obscured.”

    The research is funded by the Science and Technology Facilities Council.

    NuSTAR is a Small Explorer mission led by the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, also in Pasadena, for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The spacecraft was built by Orbital Sciences Corporation, Dulles, Virginia.

    For more information, visit:

    http://www.nasa.gov/nustar

    http://www.nustar.caltech.edu

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    NASA JPL Campus

    Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a federally funded research and development center and NASA field center located in the San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles County, California, United States. Although the facility has a Pasadena postal address, it is actually headquartered in the city of La Cañada Flintridge, on the northwest border of Pasadena. JPL is managed by the nearby California Institute of Technology (Caltech) for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The Laboratory’s primary function is the construction and operation of robotic planetary spacecraft, though it also conducts Earth-orbit and astronomy missions. It is also responsible for operating NASA’s Deep Space Network.

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  • richardmitnick 6:29 pm on May 7, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , NASA NuSTAR   

    From JPL: “Star Explosion is Lopsided, Finds NASA’s NuSTAR” 

    JPL

    May 7, 2015
    Whitney Clavin
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
    818-354-4673
    whitney.clavin@jpl.nasa.gov

    Felicia Chou
    NASA Headquarters, Washington
    202-358-0257
    felicia.chou@nasa.gov

    1
    Supernova SN 1987A, one of the brightest stellar explosions since the invention of the telescope more than 400 years ago, is no stranger to the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. The observatory has been on the frontline of studies into this brilliant dying star since its launch in 1990, three years after the supernova exploded on 23 February 1987. This image of Hubble’s old friend, retreived from the telescope’s data archive, may be the best ever of this object, and reminds us of the many mysteries still surrounding it. Dominating this picture are two glowing loops of stellar material and a very bright ring surrounding the dying star at the centre of the frame. Although Hubble has provided important clues on the nature of these structures, their origin is still largely unknown. Another mystery is that of the missing neutron star. The violent death of a high-mass star, such as SN 1987A, leaves behind a stellar remnant — a neutron star or a black hole. Astronomers expect to find a neutron star in the remnants of this supernova, but they have not yet been able to peer through the dense dust to confirm it is there. The supernova belongs to the Large Magellanic Cloud, a nearby galaxy about 168 000 light-years away.

    2
    Large Magellanic Cloud

    Even though the stellar explosion took place around 166 000 BC, its light arrived here less than 25 years ago. This picture is based on observations done with the High Resolution Channel of Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys [ACS].

    NASA Hubble ACS
    ACS

    The field of view is approximately 25 by 25 arcseconds. Credit: NASA/ESA Hubble

    2
    The plot of data from NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR (right), amounts to a “smoking gun” of evidence in the mystery of how massive stars explode. The observations indicate that supernovae belonging to a class called Type II or core-collapse blast apart in a lopsided fashion, with the core of the star hurtling in one direction, and the ejected material mostly expanding the other way (see diagram in Figure 1). NuSTAR made the most precise measurements yet of a radioactive element, called titanium-44, in the supernova remnant called 1987A. NuSTAR sees high-energy X-rays, as shown here in the plot ranging from 60 to more than 80 kiloelectron volts. The spectral signature of titanium-44 is apparent as the two tall peaks. The white line shows where one would expect to see these spectral signatures if the titanium were not moving. The fact that the spectral peaks have shifted to lower energies indicates that the titanium has “redshifted,” and is moving way from us. This is similar to what happens to a train’s whistle as the train leaves the station. The whistle’s sound shifts to lower frequencies. NuSTAR’s detection of redshifted titanium reveals that the bulk of material ejected in the 1987A supernova is flying way from us at a velocity of 1.6 million miles per hour (2.6 million kilometers per hour). Had the explosion been spherical in nature, the titanium would have been seen flying uniformly in all directions. This is proof that this explosion occurred in an asymmetrical fashion.

    The still unraveling remains of supernova 1987A are shown here in this image taken by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.

    NASA Hubble Telescope
    NASA/ESA Hubble

    The bright ring consists of material ejected from the dying star before it detonated. The ring is being lit up by the explosion’s shock wave.
    NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, has found evidence that a massive star exploded in a lopsided fashion, sending ejected material flying in one direction and the core of the star in the other.

    NASA NuSTAR
    NuSTAR

    The findings offer the best proof yet that star explosions of this type, called Type II or core-collapse supernovae, are inherently asymmetrical, a phenomenon that had been difficult to prove before now.

    “Stars are spherical objects, but apparently the process by which they die causes their cores to be turbulent, boiling and sloshing around in the seconds before their demise,” said Steve Boggs of the University of California, Berkeley, lead author of a new study on the findings, appearing in the May 8 issue of Science. “We are learning that this sloshing leads to asymmetrical explosions.”

    The supernova remnant in the study, called 1987A, is 166,000 light-years away. Light from the blast that created the remnant lit up skies above Earth in 1987. While other telescopes had found hints that this explosion was not spherical, NuSTAR found the “smoking gun” in the form of a radioisotope called titanium-44.

    “Titanium is produced in the very heart of the explosion, so it traces the shape of the engine driving the disassembly of the star,” said Fiona Harrison, the principal investigator of NuSTAR at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. “By looking at the shift of the energy of the X-rays coming from titanium, the NuSTAR data revealed that, surprisingly, most of the material is moving away from us.”

    Last year, NuSTAR created detailed titanium-44 maps of another supernova remnant, called Cassiopeia A, also finding evidence of an asymmetrical explosion, though not to as great an extent as in 1987A.

    c
    A false color image of Cassiopeia A (Cas A) using observations from both the Hubble and Spitzer telescopes as well as the Chandra X-ray Observatory (cropped). Date 9 June 2005

    NASA Spitzer Telescope
    Spitzer

    NASA Chandra Telescope
    Chandra

    Together, these results suggest that lopsidedness is at the very root of core-collapse supernova.

    When supernova 1987A first lit up our skies decades ago, telescopes around the world had a unique opportunity to watch the event unfold and evolve. Outer, ejected materials lit up first, followed by the innermost materials powered by radioactive isotopes, such as cobalt-56, which decayed into iron-56. In 2012, the European Space Agency’s Integral satellite detected titanium-44 in 1987A. Titanium-44 continues to blaze in the supernova remnant due to its long lifetime of 85 years.

    ESA Integral
    ESA/Integral

    “In some ways, it is as if 1987A is still exploding in front of our eyes,” said Boggs.

    NuSTAR brought a new tool to the study of 1987A. Thanks to the observatory’s sharp high-energy X-ray vision, it has made the most precise measurements of titanium-44 yet. This radioactive material is produced at the core of a supernova, so it provides astronomers with a direct probe into the mechanisms of a detonating star.

    The NuSTAR spectral data reveal that titanium-44 is moving away from us with a velocity of 1.6 million mph (2.6 million kilometers per hour). That indicates ejected material flung outward in one direction, while the compact core of the supernova, called a neutron star, seems to have kicked off in the opposite direction.

    “These explosions are driven by the formation of a compact object, the remaining core of the star, and this seems to be connected to the core blasting one direction, and the ejected material, the other,” said Boggs.

    Previous observations have hinted at the lopsided nature of supernova blasts, but it was impossible to confirm. Telescopes like NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, which sees lower-energy X-rays than NuSTAR, had spotted iron that had been heated in the 1987A blast, but it was not clear if the iron was generated in the explosion or just happened to have been in the vicinity.

    “Radioactive titanium-44 glows in the X-rays no matter what and is only produced in the explosion,” said Brian Grefenstette, a co-author of the study at Caltech. “This means that we don’t have to worry about how the environment influenced the observations. We are able to directly observe the material ejected in the explosion.”

    Future studies by NuSTAR and other telescopes should further illuminate the warped nature of supernovae. Is 1987A particularly askew, or in line with other objects in its class? A decades-old mystery continues to unravel before our eyes.

    NuSTAR is a Small Explorer mission led by the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, also in Pasadena, for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

    For more information, visit:

    http://www.nasa.gov/nustar

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    NASA JPL Campus

    Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a federally funded research and development center and NASA field center located in the San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles County, California, United States. Although the facility has a Pasadena postal address, it is actually headquartered in the city of La Cañada Flintridge [1], on the northwest border of Pasadena. JPL is managed by the nearby California Institute of Technology (Caltech) for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The Laboratory’s primary function is the construction and operation of robotic planetary spacecraft, though it also conducts Earth-orbit and astronomy missions. It is also responsible for operating NASA’s Deep Space Network.

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  • richardmitnick 1:40 pm on April 29, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , NASA NuSTAR   

    From NASA NuSTAR: “NASA’s NuSTAR Captures Possible ‘Screams’ from Zombie Stars” 

    NASA NuSTAR
    NuSTAR

    April 29, 2015
    Felicia Chou
    Headquarters, Washington
    202-358-0257
    felicia.chou@nasa.gov

    Whitney Clavin
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
    818-354-4673
    whitney.clavin@jpl.nasa.gov

    1
    NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, has captured a new high-energy X-ray view (magenta) of the bustling center of our Milky Way galaxy. The smaller circle shows the area where the NuSTAR image was taken — the very center of our galaxy, where a giant black hole resides. That region is enlarged to the right, in the larger circle, to show the NuSTAR data.
    The NuSTAR picture is one of the most detailed ever taken of the center of our galaxy in high-energy X-rays. The X-ray light, normally invisible to our eyes, has been assigned the color magenta. The brightest point of light near the center of the X-ray picture is coming from a spinning dead star, known as a pulsar, which is near the giant black hole. While the pulsar’s X-ray emissions were known before, scientists were surprised to find more high-energy X-rays than predicted in the surrounding regions, seen here as the elliptical haze. Astronomers aren’t sure what the sources of the extra X-rays are, but one possibility is a population of dead stars. The background picture was captured in infrared light by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope.
    The NuSTAR image has an X-ray energy range of 20 to 40 kiloelectron volts.
    Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    Peering into the heart of the Milky Way galaxy, NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) has spotted a mysterious glow of high-energy X-rays that, according to scientists, could be the “howls” of dead stars as they feed on stellar companions.

    “We can see a completely new component of the center of our galaxy with NuSTAR’s images,” said Kerstin Perez of Columbia University in New York, lead author of a new report on the findings in the journal Nature. “We can’t definitively explain the X-ray signal yet — it’s a mystery. More work needs to be done.”

    The center of our Milky Way galaxy is bustling with young and old stars, smaller black holes and other varieties of stellar corpses – all swarming around a supermassive black hole called Sagittarius A*.

    2
    Sagittarius A*. This image was taken with NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory. Ellipses indicate light echoes.

    NASA Chandra Telescope
    Chandra

    NuSTAR, launched into space in 2012, is the first telescope capable of capturing crisp images of this frenzied region in high-energy X-rays. The new images show a region around the supermassive black hole about 40 light-years across. Astronomers were surprised by the pictures, which reveal an unexpected haze of high-energy X-rays dominating the usual stellar activity.

    “Almost anything that can emit X-rays is in the galactic center,” said Perez. “The area is crowded with low-energy X-ray sources, but their emission is very faint when you examine it at the energies that NuSTAR observes, so the new signal stands out.”

    Astronomers have four potential theories to explain the baffling X-ray glow, three of which involve different classes of stellar corpses. When stars die, they don’t always go quietly into the night. Unlike stars like our sun, collapsed dead stars that belong to stellar pairs, or binaries, can siphon matter from their companions. This zombie-like “feeding” process differs depending on the nature of the normal star, but the result may be an eruption of X-rays.

    According to one theory, a type of stellar zombie called a pulsar could be at work. Pulsars are the collapsed remains of stars that exploded in supernova blasts. They can spin extremely fast and send out intense beams of radiation. As the pulsars spin, the beams sweep across the sky, sometimes intercepting the Earth, like lighthouse beacons.

    “We may be witnessing the beacons of a hitherto hidden population of pulsars in the galactic center,” said co-author Fiona Harrison of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, and principal investigator of NuSTAR. “This would mean there is something special about the environment in the very center of our galaxy.”

    Other possible culprits include heavy-set stellar corpses called white dwarfs, which are the collapsed, burned-out remains of stars not massive enough to explode in supernovae. Our sun is such a star, and is destined to become a white dwarf in about five billion years. Because these white dwarfs are much denser than they were in their youth, they have stronger gravity and can produce higher-energy X-rays than normal. Another theory points to small black holes that slowly feed off their companion stars, radiating X-rays as material plummets down into their bottomless pits.

    Alternatively, the source of the high-energy X-rays might not be stellar corpses at all, astronomers say, but rather a diffuse haze of charged particles, called cosmic rays. The cosmic rays might originate from the supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy as it devours material. When the cosmic rays interact with surrounding, dense gas, they emit X-rays.

    However, none of these theories match what is known from previous research, leaving the astronomers largely stumped.

    “This new result just reminds us that the galactic center is a bizarre place,” said co-author Chuck Hailey of Columbia University. “In the same way people behave differently walking on the street instead of jammed on a crowded rush hour subway, stellar objects exhibit weird behavior when crammed in close quarters near the supermassive black hole.”

    The team says more observations are planned. Until then, theorists will be busy exploring the above scenarios or coming up with new models to explain what could be giving off the puzzling high-energy X-ray glow.

    “Every time that we build small telescopes like NuSTAR, which improve our view of the cosmos in a particular wavelength band, we can expect surprises like this,” said Paul Hertz, the astrophysics division director at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

    NuSTAR is a Small Explorer mission led by Caltech and managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

    More information is online at:

    http://www.nasa.gov/nustar

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    NuSTAR is a Small Explorer mission led by the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, also in Pasadena, for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The spacecraft was built by Orbital Sciences Corporation, Dulles, Va. Its instrument was built by a consortium including Caltech; JPL; the University of California, Berkeley ; Columbia University, New York; NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.; the Danish Technical University in Denmark; Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Livermore, Calif.; ATK Aerospace Systems, Goleta, Calif., and with support from the Italian Space Agency (ASI) Science Data Center.

    NuSTAR’s mission operations center is at UC Berkeley, with the ASI providing its equatorial ground station located at Malindi, Kenya. The mission’s outreach program is based at Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, Calif. NASA’s Explorer Program is managed by Goddard. JPL is managed by Caltech for NASA.

    Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a federally funded research and development center and NASA field center located in the San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles County, California, United States. Although the facility has a Pasadena postal address, it is actually headquartered in the city of La Cañada Flintridge [1], on the northwest border of Pasadena. JPL is managed by the nearby California Institute of Technology (Caltech) for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The Laboratory’s primary function is the construction and operation of robotic planetary spacecraft, though it also conducts Earth-orbit and astronomy missions. It is also responsible for operating NASA’s Deep Space Network.

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  • richardmitnick 6:15 pm on February 19, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , NASA NuSTAR,   

    From NASA: “NASA, ESA Telescopes Give Shape to Furious Black Hole Winds” 

    NASA

    NASA

    February 19, 2015

    Felicia Chou
    Headquarters, Washington
    202-358-0257
    felicia.chou@nasa.gov

    Whitney Clavin
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
    818-354-4673
    whitney.clavin@jpl.nasa.gov

    1
    Supermassive black holes at the cores of galaxies blast out radiation and ultra-fast winds, as illustrated in this artist’s conception. NASA’s NuSTAR and ESA’s XMM-Newton telescopes show that these winds, containing highly ionized atoms, blow in a nearly spherical fashion. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) and ESA’s (European Space Agency) XMM-Newton telescope are showing that fierce winds from a supermassive black hole blow outward in all directions — a phenomenon that had been suspected, but difficult to prove until now.

    2
    NuSTAR

    2
    XMM-Newton

    “We know black holes in the centers of galaxies can feed on matter, and this process can produce winds. This is thought to regulate the growth of the galaxies,” said Fiona Harrison of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, California. Harrison is the principal investigator of NuSTAR and a co-author on a new paper about these results appearing in the journal Science. “Knowing the speed, shape and size of the winds, we can now figure out how powerful they are.”

    Supermassive black holes blast matter into their host galaxies, with X-ray-emitting winds traveling at up to one-third the speed of light. In the new study, astronomers determined PDS 456, an extremely bright black hole known as a quasar more than 2 billion light-years away, sustains winds that carry more energy every second than is emitted by more than a trillion suns.

    “Now we know quasar winds significantly contribute to mass loss in a galaxy, driving out its supply of gas, which is fuel for star formation,” said the study’s lead author Emanuele Nardini of Keele University in England.

    NuSTAR and XMM-Newton simultaneously observed PDS 456 on five separate occasions in 2013 and 2014. The space telescopes complement each other by observing different parts of the X-ray light spectrum: XMM-Newton views low-energy and NuSTAR views high-energy.

    Previous XMM-Newton observations had identified black hole winds blowing toward us, but could not determine whether the winds also blew in all directions. XMM-Newton had detected iron atoms, which are carried by the winds along with other matter, only directly in front of the black hole, where they block X-rays. Combining higher-energy X-ray data from NuSTAR with observations from XMM-Newton, scientists were able to find signatures of iron scattered from the sides, proving the winds emanate from the black hole not in a beam, but in a nearly spherical fashion.

    “This is a great example of the synergy between XMM-Newton and NuSTAR,” said Norbert Schartel, XMM-Newton project scientist at ESA. “The complementarity of these two X-ray observatories is enabling us to unveil previously hidden details about the powerful side of the universe.”

    With the shape and extent of the winds known, the researchers could then determine the strength of the winds and the degree to which they can inhibit the formation of new stars.

    Astronomers think supermassive black holes and their home galaxies evolve together and regulate each other’s growth. Evidence for this comes in part from observations of the central bulges of galaxies — the more massive the central bulge, the larger the supermassive black hole.

    This latest report demonstrates a supermassive black hole and its high-speed winds greatly affect the host galaxy. As the black hole bulks up in size, its winds push vast amounts of matter outward through the galaxy, which ultimately stops new stars from forming.

    Because PDS 456 is relatively close, by cosmic standards, it is bright and can be studied in detail. This black hole gives astronomers a unique look into a distant era of our universe, around 10 billion years ago, when supermassive black holes and their raging winds were more common and possibly shaped galaxies as we see them today.

    “For an astronomer, studying PDS 456 is like a paleontologist being given a living dinosaur to study,” said study co-author Daniel Stern of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena. “We are able to investigate the physics of these important systems with a level of detail not possible for those found at more typical distances, during the ‘Age of Quasars.'”

    NuSTAR is a Small Explorer mission led by Caltech and managed by JPL for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

    For more information, visit:

    http://www.nasa.gov/nustar

    and

    http://www.nustar.caltech.edu/

    This discovery has given astronomers their first opportunity to measure the strength of these ultra-fast winds and prove they are powerful enough to inhibit the host galaxy’s ability to make new stars.

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation’s civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research.

    President Dwight D. Eisenhower established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958 with a distinctly civilian (rather than military) orientation encouraging peaceful applications in space science. The National Aeronautics and Space Act was passed on July 29, 1958, disestablishing NASA’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). The new agency became operational on October 1, 1958.

    Since that time, most U.S. space exploration efforts have been led by NASA, including the Apollo moon-landing missions, the Skylab space station, and later the Space Shuttle. Currently, NASA is supporting the International Space Station and is overseeing the development of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and Commercial Crew vehicles. The agency is also responsible for the Launch Services Program (LSP) which provides oversight of launch operations and countdown management for unmanned NASA launches. Most recently, NASA announced a new Space Launch System that it said would take the agency’s astronauts farther into space than ever before and lay the cornerstone for future human space exploration efforts by the U.S.

    NASA science is focused on better understanding Earth through the Earth Observing System, advancing heliophysics through the efforts of the Science Mission Directorate’s Heliophysics Research Program, exploring bodies throughout the Solar System with advanced robotic missions such as New Horizons, and researching astrophysics topics, such as the Big Bang, through the Great Observatories [Hubble, Chandra, Spitzer, and associated programs. NASA shares data with various national and international organizations such as from the [JAXA]Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite.

     
  • richardmitnick 8:30 pm on January 8, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , NASA NuSTAR   

    From JPL: “Will the Real Monster Black Hole Please Stand Up?” 

    JPL

    January 8, 2015
    Whitney Clavin
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
    818-354-4673
    whitney.clavin@jpl.nasa.gov

    3

    A new high-energy X-ray image from NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, has pinpointed the true monster of a galactic mashup. The image shows two colliding galaxies, collectively called Arp 299, located 134 million light-years away. Each of the galaxies has a supermassive black hole at its heart.

    a
    Arp299

    NASA NuSTAR
    NuSTAR

    [Above first image]NuSTAR has revealed that the black hole located at the right of the pair is actively gorging on gas, while its partner is either dormant or hidden under gas and dust.

    The findings are helping researchers understand how the merging of galaxies can trigger black holes to start feeding, an important step in the evolution of galaxies.

    “When galaxies collide, gas is sloshed around and driven into their respective nuclei, fueling the growth of black holes and the formation of stars,” said Andrew Ptak of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, lead author of a new study accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal. “We want to understand the mechanisms that trigger the black holes to turn on and start consuming the gas.”

    NuSTAR is the first telescope capable of pinpointing where high-energy X-rays are coming from in the tangled galaxies of Arp 299. Previous observations from other telescopes, including NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton, which detect lower-energy X-rays, had indicated the presence of active supermassive black holes in Arp 299. However, it was not clear from those data alone if one or both of the black holes was feeding, or “accreting,” a process in which a black hole bulks up in mass as its gravity drags gas onto it.

    NASA Chandra Telescope
    Chandra

    ESA XMM Newton
    XMM-Newton

    The new X-ray data from NuSTAR — overlaid on a visible-light image from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope — show that the black hole on the right is, in fact, the hungry one. As it feeds on gas, energetic processes close to the black hole heat electrons and protons to about hundreds of millions of degrees, creating a superhot plasma, or corona, that boosts the visible light up to high-energy X-rays. Meanwhile, the black hole on the left either is “snoozing away,” in what is referred to as a quiescent, or dormant state, or is buried in so much gas and dust that the high-energy X-rays can’t escape.

    NASA Hubble Telescope
    Hubble

    “Odds are low that both black holes are on at the same time in a merging pair of galaxies,” said Ann Hornschemeier, a co-author of the study who presented the results Thursday at the annual American Astronomical Society meeting in Seattle. “When the cores of the galaxies get closer, however, tidal forces slosh the gas and stars around vigorously, and, at that point, both black holes may turn on.”

    NuSTAR is ideally suited to study heavily obscured black holes such as those in Arp 299. High-energy X-rays can penetrate the thick gas, whereas lower-energy X-rays and light get blocked.

    Ptak said, “Before now, we couldn’t pinpoint the real monster in the merger.”

    NuSTAR is a Small Explorer mission led by the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, also in Pasadena, for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The spacecraft was built by Orbital Sciences Corporation, Dulles, Va. Its instrument was built by a consortium including Caltech; JPL; the University of California, Berkeley ; Columbia University, New York; NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.; the Danish Technical University in Denmark; Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Livermore, Calif.; ATK Aerospace Systems, Goleta, Calif., and with support from the Italian Space Agency (ASI) Science Data Center.

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 6:06 pm on January 6, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , NASA NuSTAR   

    From LLNL: “NuSTAR Peers Into the Neutron Star Zoo” 


    Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

    December 2014
    Caryn Meissner

    n

    NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) is the first focusing observatory deployed in orbit for measuring hard x-ray energies between 3 and 80 kiloelectronvolts (keV). NuSTAR contains two focusing telescopes and an array of detectors and is more sensitive than previous technologies for this energy range. The composite background image shows low-energy (soft) x-ray data collected by NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory, infrared data captured by the Spitzer Space Telescope, and pulsar PSR J1640-4631 (blue), which was discovered by NuSTAR and lies in the inner Milky Way galaxy. (Courtesy of NASA, Jet Propulsion Laboratory [JPL], and California Institute of Technology [Caltech].)

    NASA Chandra Telescope
    Chandra

    NASA Spitzer Telescope
    Spitzer

    The deaths of stars are not as final as they seem. These often-violent events give rise to exotic stellar remnants that are dispersed throughout the cosmos. Neutron stars, for example, are created when very massive stars (those with a mass between 10 and 30 times that of our Sun) exhaust their supply of nuclear fuel and die in supernovae explosions. The star generated from such a spectacular event has a radius of about 10 kilometers, mass around 1.5 times that of the Sun, and density of roughly 1017 kilograms per cubic meter (close to the density of a black hole). Neutron stars are thus some of the tiniest, densest celestial objects in the known universe, and they exhibit some of the strongest magnetic fields ever observed. As they are born, they spin rapidly, and this spinning in conjunction with their high magnetic fields produces intermittent pulses of intense radio, x-ray, and gamma-ray emissions.

    More than 40 years after their discovery in the late 1960s, neutron stars continue to intrigue and astonish scientists. “Neutron stars are extreme objects,” says Livermore astrophysicist Julia Vogel, who works in the Physical and Life Sciences Directorate. “Just imagine something with the mass of our Sun squeezed into the San Francisco peninsula spinning at the speed of a household blender.” Although neutron stars were initially believed to belong to a uniform, simple class of stars, research over the last decade has revealed a “zoo” of objects with remarkably diverse properties and behaviors.

    The study of neutron stars has been given a significant boost with the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR), a NASA Small Explorer Mission launched in 2012. The technology behind NuSTAR has its roots in Livermore-based research and development. (See S&TR, March 2006, Floating into Thin Air.) With its two x-ray telescopes and advanced semiconductor detectors, NuSTAR achieves sensitivity 100 times greater and resolution 10 times better than previous high-energy satellite observatories.

    In 2013, Vogel began leading a Laboratory Directed Research and Development (LDRD) project that uses NuSTAR to study the hard x-ray emission produced by magnetars—neutron stars with extremely strong magnetic fields. Her team, which includes Laboratory scientist Michael Pivovaroff and astrophysicist Victoria Kaspi from Canada’s McGill University, are using data from NuSTAR to delve further into the energetic nature of neutron stars. NuSTAR’s ability to observe emission at higher angular and energy resolutions will help the researchers better understand how neutron stars produce x rays and whether a star’s properties are determined at birth or are influenced by its environment.

    “Our goal is to develop a ‘grand unification theory’—an overarching theory of neutron star physics and the birth properties of these objects—to explain their incredible diversity,” says Vogel. “NuSTAR observations are helping us understand these ubiquitous and mysterious stellar objects, which will improve our knowledge of stellar evolution, galactic population synthesis, and the study of matter under extreme conditions.”

    m
    Magnetars, such as the one in this artist’s rendering, are thought to be newly formed, isolated stars that have extremely powerful magnetic fields and emit radiation from their magnetic poles. Their irregular bursts of energy affect their rotational period and visibility. (Courtesy of European Southern Observatory.)

    Unpredictable Behavior

    Neutron star types are characterized by the star’s rotational period and the rate at which it slows. By measuring these two properties, scientists can derive the strength of a star’s magnetic field and its age. Most neutron stars were discovered by detecting the radio-frequency signals emitted when kinetic energy is converted into electromagnetic energy (via the stars’ magnetic braking). Because a radio pulsar’s spin axis does not align with its magnetic field, its emissions seem to pulse when viewed from Earth. Radio pulsars are thousands to hundreds of millions of years old, and they exhibit a very large range of magnetic field strengths.

    Magnetars, on the other hand, are the youngest neutron stars and have the most powerful magnetic fields among pulsars, measuring up to a quadrillion (1015) gauss. Magnetars also produce emission observable as periodic pulsation, but they spin more slowly than typical radio pulsars, completing a revolution in 1 to 10 seconds instead of 1 millisecond or less. Interestingly, kinetic energy in spinning magnetars is insufficient for explaining the intensity of their energetic x-ray pulses. “Way more energy comes from magnetars than their kinetic energy alone would allow,” says Pivovaroff, whose expertise is in x-ray optics and astronomy. In addition, the temperamental stars are prone to irregular outbursts of electromagnetic radiation that can affect their rotational period and visibility. “We know their location precisely,” adds Pivovaroff. “Yet sometimes magnetars cannot be detected, and at other times, they are really bright, with intensity increasing by a factor of 10 to several hundreds.”

    The current theory is that magnetars produce x-ray and gamma radiation through the decay of their inner magnetic fields, but the underlying physics and production mechanisms for electromagnetic generation are not well understood. Previous attempts to study magnetar properties in detail were hindered by the limited imaging capabilities of the available hard x-ray observatories. The hard x-ray band is important because it is a transition region from thermal processes to nonthermal ones. NuSTAR is the first focusing hard x-ray observatory deployed in orbit for measuring energies between 3 and 80 kiloelectronvolts (keV). Its two multilayer-coated telescopes image hard x rays onto a sophisticated detector array, which is separated from the optics by a 10-meter mast. The optics, which the Livermore team helped design, build, and calibrate, are key to NuSTAR’s improved resolution.

    During the first year of the LDRD study, the research team created data-analysis tools, including novel algorithms based on existing codes, to interpret the NuSTAR measurements. “Prior to conducting scientific observations, we had the instrument look at well-documented stellar objects as part of our in-orbit calibration efforts,” says Vogel. “We then compared the data to our physics-based computational models, which were designed to predict what we would see in space.”

    The NuSTAR team discovered that ground calibration models could not fully explain the instrument’s in-orbit measurements. This finding was not completely unexpected because simplified models were being used to describe extremely complex phenomena. “The calibration data helped us further improve the models and better understand the discrepancies,” says Vogel. “At Livermore, we were responsible for precision metrology, evaluation, and implementation of results into the ray trace modeling.” Ultimately, the NuSTAR team improved the physics models in the simulations, which reduced the discrepancies between model results and observed data to a level comparable to that achieved for other missions.

    With NuSTAR, researchers can retrieve more detailed images of stellar objects by measuring hard-x-ray emissions. The ROSAT (Röntgen Satellite) Mission, which records emissions between 0.1 and 2.4 keV, captured the left image of supernova remnant CTB109 and magnetar 1E 2259+586 (bright point). The white frame indicates the NuSTAR field of view. (right) Spectroscopic data recorded by NuSTAR in the 3- to 80-keV range provide more details on the magnetar and its environment.

    r
    With NuSTAR, researchers can retrieve more detailed images of stellar objects by measuring hard-x-ray emissions. The ROSAT (Röntgen Satellite) Mission, which records emissions between 0.1 and 2.4 keV, captured the left image of supernova remnant CTB109 and magnetar 1E 2259+586 (bright point). The white frame indicates the NuSTAR field of view. (right) Spectroscopic data recorded by NuSTAR in the 3- to 80-keV range provide more details on the magnetar and its environment.

    NASA ROSAT staellite
    ROSAT

    A High-Energy Revelation

    In 2014, the research team focused on detecting and analyzing the hard x-ray spectra from several magnetars. “We took an extensive look at one of the most studied magnetars (1E 2259+586), which prior to NuSTAR had been only marginally detected in the hard x-ray energy range,” says Vogel. Spectroscopic techniques determine what energies are emitted by the magnetars and how the spectra differ for the pulsed and constant emission. “We detected hard x-ray pulsations above 20 keV for the first time and studied the magnetar’s spectrum at higher energies than were previously accessible,” she adds. “The hard x-ray data revealed that additional spectral components, which were not required for lower energy (or soft) x-ray measurements alone, were needed to describe the magnetar’s hard and soft x-ray emission together.”

    The team fit the x-ray data obtained from NuSTAR to a recently developed electron–positron outflow model called the Beloborodov model, which could explain the properties and origin of the x-ray emission. “We determined spectral parameters, pulse profile, and pulsed fractions for the NuSTAR data and were able to support the theoretical model,” says Vogel. “Even though current data do not tightly constrain the model parameters, we found that the outflow is likely to originate from a ring on the magnetar rather than from its polar cap, which is surprising.” The team’s findings also support a connection between the spectral turnover and the star’s magnetic fields, consistent with previous observations of other magnetars.

    Using a similar analysis approach, the team characterized a newly discovered magnetar. “We obtained the first timing information of the star, showing that its spin-down rate increased without a glitch,” says Vogel, explaining that a glitch is the sudden spin-up or spin-down that can occur when fluid inside a neutron star rotates faster than the star’s crust. “Because no glitch was observed, the increase is likely to be of magnetospheric origin.”

    The researchers also analyzed spectra from pulsar wind nebulae. These objects form when charged particles are accelerated to relativistic speeds by the neutron star’s rapidly spinning, extremely strong magnetic fields, and they are shocked when constrained by the environment surrounding the star. Observing pulsar wind nebulae will help the team identify the composition of outflowing matter and the relative amount of energy stored in the outflow particle versus the magnetic fields. “Hard x-ray studies enable us to analyze systems where soft x rays are absorbed by interstellar dust,” says Vogel. “The first observations of the Geminga pulsar wind nebula were used for spectroscopy, and the rotation-powered pulsar was detected for the first time in hard x rays above 10 keV.”

    c
    This composite image of the nebula around pulsar PSR B1509-58 illustrates pulsar wind nebulae. Data were recorded by the Chandra X-Ray Observatory at 0.5 to 2 keV (red) and 2 to 4 keV (green) and by NuSTAR at 7 to 25 keV (blue). NuSTAR’s hard x-ray view reveals the central pulsar. Similar images were obtained for Geminga. (Courtesy of NASA, JPL, Caltech, and McGill University.)

    Resolving Mysteries in X-Ray Astronomy

    “What is being achieved with NuSTAR and Julia’s team is a culmination of more than 10 years of LDRD support,” says Pivovaroff, who worked on the NuSTAR design and helped build the instrument. “Livermore had the long-term commitment and vision to invest in early technology development. Now that it has transitioned into a satellite instrument, we are using the technology to further our understanding of fundamental science.”

    As Vogel and her team continue to advance knowledge of neutron star physics, they look forward to resolving other mysteries in x-ray astronomy. “We can leverage the experience gained from NuSTAR for developing the next generation of x-ray telescopes,” she says. “By being involved in building NuSTAR and its science mission, we can gain a better understanding of what capabilities will be needed for future astrophysics research.” As this research continues, Vogel eagerly anticipates the discoveries to be made during the next year. Only time will tell whether the “animals” in the neutron star zoo share a common connection or if each is a breed of its own.

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 2:58 pm on December 22, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , NASA NuSTAR   

    From JPL: “Sun Sizzles in High-Energy X-Rays” 

    JPL

    December 22, 2014
    Whitney Clavin
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
    818-354-4673
    whitney.clavin@jpl.nasa.gov

    For the first time, a mission designed to set its eyes on black holes and other objects far from our solar system has turned its gaze back closer to home, capturing images of our sun. NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, has taken its first picture of the sun, producing the most sensitive solar portrait ever taken in high-energy X-rays.

    NASA NuSTAR
    NU-STAR

    “NuSTAR will give us a unique look at the sun, from the deepest to the highest parts of its atmosphere,” said David Smith, a solar physicist and member of the NuSTAR team at University of California, Santa Cruz.

    Solar scientists first thought of using NuSTAR to study the sun about seven years ago, after the space telescope’s design and construction was already underway (the telescope launched into space in 2012). Smith had contacted the principal investigator, Fiona Harrison of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, who mulled it over and became excited by the idea.

    “At first I thought the whole idea was crazy,” says Harrison. “Why would we have the most sensitive high energy X-ray telescope ever built, designed to peer deep into the universe, look at something in our own back yard?” Smith eventually convinced Harrison, explaining that faint X-ray flashes predicted by theorists could only be seen by NuSTAR.

    While the sun is too bright for other telescopes such as NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, NuSTAR can safely look at it without the risk of damaging its detectors. The sun is not as bright in the higher-energy X-rays detected by NuSTAR, a factor that depends on the temperature of the sun’s atmosphere.

    NASA Chandra Telescope
    NASA Chandra schematic
    Chandra X-ray space observatory

    s
    X-rays stream off the sun in this image showing observations from by NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, overlaid on a picture taken by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) .Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/GSFC

    NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory
    NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory schematic

    This first solar image from NuSTAR demonstrates that the telescope can in fact gather data about sun. And it gives insight into questions about the remarkably high temperatures that are found above sunspots — cool, dark patches on the sun. Future images will provide even better data as the sun winds down in its solar cycle.

    “We will come into our own when the sun gets quiet,” said Smith, explaining that the sun’s activity will dwindle over the next few years.

    With NuSTAR’s high-energy views, it has the potential to capture hypothesized nanoflares — smaller versions of the sun’s giant flares that erupt with charged particles and high-energy radiation. Nanoflares, should they exist, may explain why the sun’s outer atmosphere, called the corona, is sizzling hot, a mystery called the “coronal heating problem.” The corona is, on average, 1.8 million degrees Fahrenheit (1 million degrees Celsius), while the surface of the sun is relatively cooler at 10,800 Fahrenheit (6,000 degrees Celsius). It is like a flame coming out of an ice cube. Nanoflares, in combination with flares, may be sources of the intense heat.

    If NuSTAR can catch nanoflares in action, it may help solve this decades-old puzzle.

    “NuSTAR will be exquisitely sensitive to the faintest X-ray activity happening in the solar atmosphere, and that includes possible nanoflares,” said Smith.

    What’s more, the X-ray observatory can search for hypothesized dark matter particles called axions. Dark matter is five times more abundant than regular matter in the universe. Everyday matter familiar to us, for example in tables and chairs, planets and stars, is only a sliver of what’s out there. While dark matter has been indirectly detected through its gravitational pull, its composition remains unknown.

    It’s a long shot, say scientists, but NuSTAR may be able spot axions, one of the leading candidates for dark matter, should they exist. The axions would appear as a spot of X-rays in the center of the sun.

    Meanwhile, as the sun awaits future NuSTAR observations, the telescope is continuing with its galactic pursuits, probing black holes, supernova remnants and other extreme objects beyond our solar system.

    NuSTAR is a Small Explorer mission led by Caltech and managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, also in Pasadena, for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The spacecraft was built by Orbital Sciences Corporation, Dulles, Virginia. Its instrument was built by a consortium including Caltech; JPL; the University of California, Berkeley; Columbia University, New York; NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland; the Danish Technical University in Denmark; Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Livermore, California; ATK Aerospace Systems, Goleta, California; and with support from the Italian Space Agency (ASI) Science Data Center.

    NuSTAR’s mission operations center is at UC Berkeley, with the ASI providing its equatorial ground station located at Malindi, Kenya. The mission’s outreach program is based at Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, California. NASA’s Explorer Program is managed by Goddard. JPL is managed by Caltech for NASA.

    For more information, visit:

    http://www.nasa.gov/nustar

    http://www.nustar.caltech.edu

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 10:00 am on October 26, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , NASA NuSTAR, ,   

    From Science Daily: “Illusions in the cosmic clouds: New image of spinning neutron star” 

    ScienceDaily Icon

    Science Daily

    October 24, 2014
    Source: NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory

    Pareidolia is the psychological phenomenon where people see recognizable shapes in clouds, rock formations, or otherwise unrelated objects or data. There are many examples of this phenomenon on Earth and in space.

    When an image from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory of PSR B1509-58 — a spinning neutron star surrounded by a cloud of energetic particles –was released in 2009, it quickly gained attention because many saw a hand-like structure in the X-ray emission.

    visions
    Do you see any recognizable shapes in this nebulous region captured by NASA’s WISE and Chandra missions?
    Credit: NASA/CXC/SAO: X-ray; NASA/JPL-Caltech: Infrared

    NASA Chandra Telescope
    NASA/Chandra

    In a new image of the system, X-rays from Chandra in gold are seen along with infrared data from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) telescope in red, green and blue. Pareidolia may strike again as some people report seeing a shape of a face in WISE’s infrared data. What do you see?

    NASA Wise Telescope
    NASA/Wise

    NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, also took a picture of the neutron star nebula in 2014, using higher-energy X-rays than Chandra.

    NASA NuSTAR
    NASA/ NuSTAR

    PSR B1509-58 is about 17,000 light-years from Earth.

    JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the WISE mission for NASA. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the Chandra program for. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, controls Chandra’s science and flight operations.

    More information is online at http://www.nasa.gov/wise and http://wise.astro.ucla.edu and http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/wise.

    See the full article here.

    ScienceDaily is one of the Internet’s most popular science news web sites. Since starting in 1995, the award-winning site has earned the loyalty of students, researchers, healthcare professionals, government agencies, educators and the general public around the world. Now with more than 3 million monthly visitors, ScienceDaily generates nearly 15 million page views a month and is steadily growing in its global audience.

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  • richardmitnick 4:12 pm on October 8, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From Nu-STAR: “NASA’s NuSTAR Telescope Discovers Shockingly Bright Dead Star” 

    NASA NuSTAR
    NuSTAR

    Astronomers have found a pulsating, dead star beaming with the energy of about 10 million suns. This is the brightest pulsar – a dense stellar remnant left over from a supernova explosion – ever recorded. The discovery was made with NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR.

    dead
    High-energy X-rays streaming from a rare and mighty pulsar (magenta), the brightest found to date, can be seen in this new image combining multi-wavelength data from three telescopes. The bulk of a galaxy called Messier 82 (M82), or the “Cigar galaxy,” is seen in visible-light data captured by the National Optical Astronomy Observatory’s 2.1-meter telescope at Kitt Peak in Arizona. Starlight is white, and lanes of dust appear brown. Low-energy X-ray data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory are colored blue, and higher-energy X-ray data from NuSTAR are pink.

    NOAO Kitt Peak
    kpi
    NMOAO/Kitt Peak Observatory telescope

    The magenta object is what’s known as an ultraluminous X-ray source, or ULX — a source of blazing X-rays. Previously, all ULXs were suspected to be massive black holes up to a few hundred times the mass of the sun. But NuSTAR spotted a pulsing of X-rays from this ULX (called M82 X-2) – a telltale sign of a pulsar, not a black hole. A pulsar is a type a neutron star — a stellar core left over from a supernova explosion — that sends out rotating beams of high-energy radiation. Scientists were surprised to find the pulsar at the root of the ULX because it shines with a luminosity that is more typical of heftier black holes.

    NuSTAR data covers the X-ray energy range of 10 to 40 kiloelectron volts (keV), and Chandra covers the range .1 to 10 keV.

    Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SAO/NOAO

    “You might think of this pulsar as the ‘Mighty Mouse’ of stellar remnants,” said Fiona Harrison, the NuSTAR principal investigator at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California. “It has all the power of a black hole, but with much less mass.”

    The discovery appears in a new report in the Thursday Oct. 9 issue of the journal Nature.

    The surprising find is helping astronomers better understand mysterious sources of blinding X-rays, called ultraluminous X-ray sources (ULXs). Until now, all ULXs were thought to be black holes. The new data from NuSTAR show at least one ULX, about 12 million light-years away in the galaxy Messier 82 (M82), is actually a pulsar.

    m82
    To celebrate the Hubble Space Telescope’s 16 years of success, the two space agencies involved in the project, NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), are releasing this image of the magnificent starburst galaxy, Messier 82 (M82). This mosaic image is the sharpest wide-angle view ever obtained of M82. The galaxy is remarkable for its bright blue disk, webs of shredded clouds, and fiery-looking plumes of glowing hydrogen blasting out of its central regions.

    Throughout the galaxy’s center, young stars are being born 10 times faster than they are inside our entire Milky Way Galaxy. The resulting huge concentration of young stars carved into the gas and dust at the galaxy’s center. The fierce galactic superwind generated from these stars compresses enough gas to make millions of more stars.

    In M82, young stars are crammed into tiny but massive star clusters. These, in turn, congregate by the dozens to make the bright patches, or “starburst clumps,” in the central parts of M82. The clusters in the clumps can only be distinguished in the sharp Hubble images. Most of the pale, white objects sprinkled around the body of M82 that look like fuzzy stars are actually individual star clusters about 20 light-years across and contain up to a million stars.

    The rapid rate of star formation in this galaxy eventually will be self-limiting. When star formation becomes too vigorous, it will consume or destroy the material needed to make more stars. The starburst then will subside, probably in a few tens of millions of years.

    Located 12 million light-years away, M82 appears high in the northern spring sky in the direction of the constellation Ursa Major, the Great Bear. It is also called the “Cigar Galaxy” because of the elliptical shape produced by the oblique tilt of its starry disk relative to our line of sight.

    The observation was made in March 2006, with the Advanced Camera for Surveys‘ Wide Field Channel. Astronomers assembled this six-image composite mosaic by combining exposures taken with four colored filters that capture starlight from visible and infrared wavelengths as well as the light from the glowing hydrogen filaments.

    NASA Hubble Telescope
    NASA/ESA Hubble

    NASA Hubble ACS
    NASA/HUbble ACS

    “The pulsar appears to be eating the equivalent of a black hole diet,” said Harrison. “This result will help us understand how black holes gorge and grow so quickly, which is an important event in the formation of galaxies and structures in the universe.”

    ULXs are generally thought to be black holes feeding off companion stars — a process called accretion. They also are suspected to be the long-sought after “medium-size” black holes – missing links between smaller, stellar-size black holes and the gargantuan ones that dominate the hearts of most galaxies. But research into the true nature of ULXs continues toward more definitive answers.

    NuSTAR did not initially set out to study the two ULXs in M82. Astronomers had been observing a recent supernova in the galaxy when they serendipitously noticed pulses of bright X-rays coming from the ULX known as M82 X-2. Black holes do not pulse, but pulsars do.

    Pulsars belong to a class of stars called neutron stars. Like black holes, neutron stars are the burnt-out cores of exploded stars, but puny in mass by comparison. Pulsars send out beams of radiation ranging from radio waves to ultra-high-energy gamma rays. As the star spins, these beams intercept Earth like lighthouse beacons, producing a pulsed signal.

    “We took it for granted that the powerful ULXs must be massive black holes,” said lead study author Matteo Bachetti, of the University of Toulouse in France. “When we first saw the pulsations in the data, we thought they must be from another source.”

    NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and Swift satellite also have monitored M82 to study the same supernova, and confirmed the intense X-rays of M82 X-2 were coming from a pulsar.

    NASA Chandra Telescope
    NASA/Chandra

    NASA SWIFT Telescope
    NASA SWIFT

    “Having a diverse array of telescopes in space means that they can help each other out,” said Paul Hertz, director of NASA’s astrophysics division in Washington. “When one telescope makes a discovery, others with complementary capabilities can be called in to investigate it at different wavelengths.”

    The key to NuSTAR’s discovery was its sensitivity to high-energy X-rays, as well as its ability to precisely measure the timing of the signals, which allowed astronomers to measure a pulse rate of 1.37 seconds. They also measured its energy output at the equivalent of 10 million suns, or 10 times more than that observed from other X-ray pulsars. This is a big punch for something about the mass of our sun and the size of Pasadena.

    How is this puny, dead star radiating so fiercely? Astronomers are not sure, but they say it is likely due to a lavish feast of the cosmic kind. As is the case with black holes, the gravity of a neutron star can pull matter off companion stars. As the matter is dragged onto the neutron star, it heats up and glows with X-rays. If the pulsar is indeed feeding off surrounding matter, it is doing so at such an extreme rate to have theorists scratching their heads.

    Astronomers are planning follow-up observations with NASA’s NuSTAR, Swift and Chandra spacecraft to find an explanation for the pulsar’s bizarre behavior. The NuSTAR team also will look at more ULXs, meaning they could turn up more pulsars. At this point, it is not clear whether M82 X-2 is an oddball or if more ULXs beat with the pulse of dead stars. NuSTAR, a relatively small telescope, has thrown a big loop into the mystery of black holes.

    “In the news recently, we have seen that another source of unusually bright X-rays in the M82 galaxy seems to be a medium-sized black hole,” said astronomer Jeanette Gladstone of the University of Alberta, Canada, who is not affiliated with the study. “Now, we find that the second source of bright X-rays in M82 isn’t a black hole at all. This is going to challenge theorists and pave the way for a new understanding of the diversity of these fascinating objects.”

    More information about NuSTAR is online at:

    http://www.nasa.gov/nustar

    See the full article here.

    NuSTAR is a Small Explorer mission led by the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, also in Pasadena, for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The spacecraft was built by Orbital Sciences Corporation, Dulles, Va. Its instrument was built by a consortium including Caltech; JPL; the University of California, Berkeley ; Columbia University, New York; NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.; the Danish Technical University in Denmark; Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Livermore, Calif.; ATK Aerospace Systems, Goleta, Calif., and with support from the Italian Space Agency (ASI) Science Data Center.

    NuSTAR’s mission operations center is at UC Berkeley, with the ASI providing its equatorial ground station located at Malindi, Kenya. The mission’s outreach program is based at Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, Calif. NASA’s Explorer Program is managed by Goddard. JPL is managed by Caltech for NASA.

    Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a federally funded research and development center and NASA field center located in the San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles County, California, United States. Although the facility has a Pasadena postal address, it is actually headquartered in the city of La Cañada Flintridge [1], on the northwest border of Pasadena. JPL is managed by the nearby California Institute of Technology (Caltech) for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The Laboratory’s primary function is the construction and operation of robotic planetary spacecraft, though it also conducts Earth-orbit and astronomy missions. It is also responsible for operating NASA’s Deep Space Network.

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  • richardmitnick 1:43 pm on September 17, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , NASA NuSTAR,   

    From NASA: “Pulse of a Dead Star Powers Intense Gamma Rays” 

    NASA

    NASA

    September 16, 2014
    Whitney Clavin 818-354-4673
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California
    whitney.clavin@jpl.nasa.gov

    Our Milky Way galaxy is littered with the still-sizzling remains of exploded stars.

    pulsar
    The blue dot in this image marks the spot of an energetic pulsar — the magnetic, spinning core of star that blew up in a supernova explosion. NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, discovered the pulsar by identifying its telltale pulse — a rotating beam of X-rays, that like a cosmic lighthouse, intersects Earth every 0.2 seconds.

    NASA NuSTAR
    NASA/NuSTAR
    The pulsar, called PSR J1640-4631, lies in our inner Milky Way galaxy about 42,000 light-years away. It was originally identified by as an intense source of gamma rays by the High Energy Stereoscopic System (H.E.S.S.) in Namibia. NuSTAR helped pin down the source of the gamma rays to a pulsar.
    HESS Cherenko Array
    H.E.S.S. Array
    The other pink dots in this picture show low-energy X-rays detected by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory.
    NASA Chandra Telescope
    NASA/Chandra
    In this image, NuSTAR data is blue and shows high-energy X-rays with 3 to 79 kiloelectron volts; Chandra data is pink and shows X-rays with 0.5 to 10 kiloeletron volts.
    The background image shows infrared light and was captured by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope.

    NASA Spitzer Telescope
    NASA Spitzer

    Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SAO

    When the most massive stars explode as supernovas, they don’t fade into the night, but sometimes glow ferociously with high-energy gamma rays. What powers these energetic stellar remains?

    NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, is helping to untangle the mystery. The observatory’s high-energy X-ray eyes were able to peer into a particular site of powerful gamma rays and confirm the source: A spinning, dead star called a pulsar. Pulsars are one of several types of stellar remnants that are left over when stars blow up in supernova explosions.

    This is not the first time pulsars have been discovered to be the culprits behind intense gamma rays, but NuSTAR has helped in a case that was tougher to crack due to the distance of the object in question. NuSTAR joins NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, and the High Energy Stereoscopic System (H.E.S.S.) in Namibia, each with its own unique strengths, to better understand the evolution of these not-so-peaceful dead stars.

    NASA Fermi Telescope
    NASA/Fermi

    “The energy from this corpse of a star is enough to power the gamma-ray luminosity we are seeing,” said Eric Gotthelf of Columbia University, New York. Gotthelf explained that while pulsars are often behind these gamma rays in our galaxy, other sources can be as well, including the outer shells of the supernova remnants, X-ray binary stars and star-formation regions. Gotthelf is lead author of a new paper describing the findings in the Astrophysical Journal.

    In recent years, the Max-Planck Institute for Astronomy’s H.E.S.S. experiment has identified more than 80 incredibly powerful sites of gamma rays, called high-energy gamma-ray sources, in our Milky Way. Most of these have been associated with prior supernova explosions, but for many, the primary source of observed gamma rays remains unknown.

    The gamma-ray source pinpointed in this new study, caled HESS J1640-465, is one of the most luminous discovered so far. It was already known to be linked with a supernova remnant, but the source of its power was unclear. While data from Chandra and the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton telescopes hinted that the power source was a pulsar, intervening clouds of gas blocked the view, making it difficult to see.

    ESA XMM Newton
    ESA/XMM-Newton

    NuSTAR complements Chandra and XMM-Newton in its capability to detect higher-energy range of X-rays that can, in fact, penetrate through this intervening gas. In addition, the NuSTAR telescope can measure rapid X-ray pulsations with fine precision. In this particular case, NuSTAR was able to capture high-energy X-rays coming at regular fast-paced pulses from HESS J1640-465. These data led to the discovery of PSR J1640-4631, a pulsar spinning five times per second — and the ultimate power source of both the high-energy X-rays and gamma rays.

    How does the pulsar produce the high-energy rays? The pulsar’s strong magnetic fields generate powerful electric fields that accelerate charged particles near the surface to incredible speeds approaching that of light. The fast-moving particles then interact with the magnetic fields to produce the powerful beams of high-energy gamma rays and X-rays.

    “The discovery of a pulsar engine powering HESS J1640-465 allows astronomers to test models for the underlying physics that result in the extraordinary energies generated by these rare gamma-rays sources,” said Gotthelf.

    “Perhaps other luminous gamma-ray sources harbor pulsars that we can’t detect,” said Victoria Kaspi of McGill University, Montreal, Canada, a co-author on the study. “With NuSTAR, we may be able to find more hidden pulsars.”

    The new data also allowed astronomers to measure the rate at which the pulsar slows, or spins down (about 30 microseconds per year), as well as how this spin-down rate varies over time. The answers will help researchers understand how these spinning magnets — the cores of dead stars — can be the source of such extreme radiation in our galaxy.

    See the full article here.

    The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation’s civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research.

    President Dwight D. Eisenhower established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958 with a distinctly civilian (rather than military) orientation encouraging peaceful applications in space science. The National Aeronautics and Space Act was passed on July 29, 1958, disestablishing NASA’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). The new agency became operational on October 1, 1958.

    Since that time, most U.S. space exploration efforts have been led by NASA, including the Apollo moon-landing missions, the Skylab space station, and later the Space Shuttle. Currently, NASA is supporting the International Space Station and is overseeing the development of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and Commercial Crew vehicles. The agency is also responsible for the Launch Services Program (LSP) which provides oversight of launch operations and countdown management for unmanned NASA launches. Most recently, NASA announced a new Space Launch System that it said would take the agency’s astronauts farther into space than ever before and lay the cornerstone for future human space exploration efforts by the U.S.

    NASA science is focused on better understanding Earth through the Earth Observing System, advancing heliophysics through the efforts of the Science Mission Directorate’s Heliophysics Research Program, exploring bodies throughout the Solar System with advanced robotic missions such as New Horizons, and researching astrophysics topics, such as the Big Bang, through the Great Observatories [Hubble,
    Chandra, Spitzer ]and associated programs. NASA shares data with various national and international organizations such as from the Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite.
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