NASA’s NuSTAR telescope has just used its X-ray vision on Andromeda, the closest galaxy to the Milky Way, and the findings were surprising. The spectroscopy telescope discovered 40 X-ray binaries, i.e. highly-energetic pairs of a black hole or neutron star and a stellar neighbor.
X-ray binaries are science-worthy because they are considered to be some of the most powerful sources of X-rays in the entire Universe. These objects are believed to release so much energy that they can heat up the interstellar clouds of gas and dust where galaxies form.
Scientists have already obtained sharper images of Andromeda’s highly-energetic denizens via NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, but NuSTAR is currently the most accurate spectroscopy telescope the space agency has.
The telescope’s latest images will enable researchers assess just how much energy is released by Andromeda’s X-ray binaries. Daniel Wik, a NASA scientist at the Goddard Space Flight Center who publicized the findings at a conference in Florida, explained that Andromeda is the closest galaxy that resembles our own.
And the data obtained can be used by astronomers to speculate what might be happening beyond Andromeda, which is located 2.5 million light-years from our galaxy. Researchers are fortunate to have NuSTAR and Chandra, as they are now able to better understand the nature of the mysterious X-ray binaries.
Andromeda is also a spiral galaxy but a little larger than the Milky Way. In dark, clear skies, an average observer can detect stars from Andromeda with the naked eye. X-ray binaries are comprised of a star that has either exploded or collapsed under its own weight and a live star.
The collapsed star has morphed into a neutron star or black hole depending on the features of the initial star. Nevertheless, the ‘dead’ star cannibalizes the normal star thus releasing huge amounts of x-ray radiation.
X-ray binaries are considered to be the most visible sources of X-ray in our galaxy. Wik and his fellow researchers are putting NuSTAR to work in an attempt to tell X-ray binaries hosting a black hole from those housing a neutron star.
The X-ray binaries are also responsible for the high-energy X-ray background of the universe, but technology prior to NuSTAR enabled scientists to detect just 2 percent of the X-Ray emitters. NuSTAR recently helped researchers resolve 35 percent of the objects behind the cosmic energy background.
Image Source: wikimedia
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