NASA'S NuSTAR reveals flare from Milky Way's black hole

Oct 24, 2012 by J.d. Harrington And Whitney Clavin

NASA's newest set of X-ray eyes in the sky, the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR), has caught its first look at the giant black hole parked at the center of our galaxy. The observations show the typically mild-mannered black hole during the middle of a flare-up.

"We got lucky to have captured an outburst from the black hole during our observing campaign," said Fiona Harrison, the mission's principal investigator at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena. "These data will help us better understand the gentle giant at the heart of our galaxy and why it sometimes flares up for a few hours and then returns to slumber."

The new images can be seen by visiting:

NuSTAR, launched June 13, is the only telescope capable of producing focused images of the highest-energy X-rays. For two days in July, the telescope teamed up with other observatories to observe Sagittarius A (Sgr A), the black hole at the center of the Milky Way. Participating telescopes included NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, which sees lower-energy X-ray light; and the W.M. atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii, which took .

Compared to giant black holes at the centers of other galaxies, Sgr A is relatively quiet. Active black holes tend to gobble up stars and other fuel around them. Sgr A is thought only to nibble or not eat at all, a process that is not fully understood. When black holes consume fuel—whether a star, a or, as recent Chandra observations have suggested, even an asteroid—they erupt with extra energy.

In the case of NuSTAR, its state-of-the-art telescope is picking up X-rays emitted by consumed matter being heated up to about 180 million degrees Fahrenheit (100 million degrees Celsius) and originating from regions where particles are boosted very close to the speed of light. Astronomers say these NuSTAR data, when combined with the simultaneous observations taken at other wavelengths, will help them better understand the physics of how snack and grow in size.

"Astronomers have long speculated that the black hole's snacking should produce copious hard X-rays, but NuSTAR is the first with sufficient sensitivity to actually detect them," said NuSTAR team member Chuck Hailey of Columbia University in New York City.

Explore further: Astronomers find 'cousin' planets around twin stars

Related Stories

NuSTAR provides new look at black holes

Jun 11, 2012

When NASA launches a new telescope this Wednesday that will look at black holes in ways never seen before, Georgia Tech astrophysicist David Ballantyne will be more than a curious bystander. He helped plan ...

Space telescope opens its X-ray eyes

Jun 29, 2012

NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, has snapped its first test images of the sizzling high-energy X-ray universe. The observatory, launched June 13, is the first space telescope with the ...

Recommended for you

How small can galaxies be?

Sep 29, 2014

Yesterday I talked about just how small a star can be, so today let's explore just how small a galaxy can be. Our Milky Way galaxy is about 100,000 light years across, and contains about 200 billion stars. Th ...

The coolest stars

Sep 29, 2014

One way that stars are categorized is by temperature. Since the temperature of a star can determine its visual color, this category scheme is known as spectral type. The main categories of spectral type are ...

Simulations reveal an unusual death for ancient stars

Sep 29, 2014

( —Certain primordial stars—those 55,000 and 56,000 times the mass of our Sun, or solar masses—may have died unusually. In death, these objects—among the Universe's first-generation of stars—would ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

4 / 5 (4) Oct 24, 2012
Andrea Ghez's Galactic Center Group has produced a short animation showing Sgr A* undergoing an outburst(in infrared light):
3.7 / 5 (3) Oct 24, 2012
NuSTAR is just in time for a show: