Space telescopes reveal previously unknown brilliant X-ray explosion in our Milky Way galaxy

Oct 22, 2010
This is an artist's rendering of the Swift spacecraft with a gamma-ray burst going off in the background. Credit: Spectrum Astro

Astronomers in Japan, using an X-ray detector on the International Space Station, and at Penn State University, using NASA's Swift space observatory, are announcing the discovery of an object newly emitting X-rays, which previously had been hidden inside our Milky Way galaxy in the constellation Centaurus.

The object -- a binary system -- was revealed recently when an instrument on the named MAXI (Monitor of All-Sky X-ray Image) on the Exposed Facility of the Japanese Experiment Module "Kibo" caught it in the act of erupting with a massive blast of X-rays known as an X-ray nova. The MAXI mission team quickly alerted astronomers worldwide to the discovery of the new X-ray source at 2:00 a.m. EDT on 20 October, and NASA's Swift Observatory quickly conducted an urgent "target-of-opportunity" observation nine hours later, which allowed for the location of the X-ray nova to be measured accurately.

"The collaboration between the MAXI and Swift teams allowed us to quickly and accurately identify this new object," said Jamie Kennea, the Swift X-ray Telescope instrument scientist at Penn State University who is leading the Swift analysis. "MAXI and Swift's abilities are uniquely complementary, and in this case have provided a discovery that would not have been possible without combining the knowledge obtained from both."

The Swift detection confirmed the presence of the previously unknown bright X-ray source, which was named MAXI J1409-619. "The Swift observation suggests that this source is probably a neutron star or a black hole with a massive located at a distance of a few tens of thousands of light years from Earth in the ," said David Burrows, professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State and the lead scientist for Swift's X-ray Telescope. "The contribution of Swift's X-ray Telescope to this discovery is that it can swing into position rapidly to focus on a particular point in the sky and it can image the sky with high sensitivity and high spatial resolution."

This is a view of MAXI attached to the Japanese Experiment Module - Exposed Facility (JEF). This photo was taken during STS-127 / Expedition 20 Joint Operations. Credit: Image courtesy of NASA

"MAXI has demonstrated its capability to discover X-ray novae at great distances," said Kazutaka Yamaoka, assistant professor at Aoyama Gakuin University and a member of the MAXI team. "The MAXI team is planning further coordinated observations with NASA satellites to reveal the identity of this source."

Explore further: New mass map of a distant galaxy cluster is the most precise yet

Related Stories

The Cosmic Shredder and the Magnetar

Dec 15, 2005

No, it is not the title of the next Harry Potter book - but the latest discoveries from NASA's Swift mission which is studying gamma-ray bursts (GRB's) - the most powerful explosions occurring in the Universe. ...

Swift Satellite Finds Newborn Black Holes

Aug 19, 2005

Scientists using NASA's Swift satellite say they have found newborn black holes, just seconds old, in a confused state of existence. The holes are consuming material falling into them while somehow propelling ...

Worldwide hunt to solve the mystery of gamma-ray bursts

Feb 16, 2008

UK space scientist Emeritus Professor Alan Wells is to speak at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Boston in February on International Cooperation in Developing Swift and its Scientific Achievements.

Three satellites needed to bring out 'shy star'

Jul 13, 2005

An international team of scientists has uncovered a rare type of neutron star so elusive that it took three satellites to identify it. The findings, made with ESA’s Integral satellite and two NASA satellites, rev ...

Recommended for you

Image: Chandra's view of the Tycho Supernova remnant

9 hours ago

More than four centuries after Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe first observed the supernova that bears his name, the supernova remnant it created is now a bright source of X-rays. The supersonic expansion of ...

Satellite galaxies put astronomers in a spin

Jul 24, 2014

An international team of researchers, led by astronomers at the Observatoire Astronomique de Strasbourg (CNRS/Université de Strasbourg), has studied 380 galaxies and shown that their small satellite galaxies almost always ...

Video: The diversity of habitable zones and the planets

Jul 24, 2014

The field of exoplanets has rapidly expanded from the exclusivity of exoplanet detection to include exoplanet characterization. A key step towards this characterization is the determination of which planets occupy the Habitable ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

rah
1 / 5 (1) Oct 23, 2010
I suppose there's a good explanation for why it took the Swift Telescope 9 hours to get in the game. And what was the Fermi Space Telescope doing during all of this drama?