A new Chandra X-ray Observatory image of Messier 82, or M82, shows the result of star formation on overdrive. M82 is located about 12 million light years from Earth and is the nearest place to us where the conditions are similar to those when the Universe was much younger with lots of stars forming.
M82 is a so-called starburst galaxy, where stars are forming at rates that are tens or even hundreds of times higher than in a normal galaxy. The burst of star birth may be caused by a close encounter or collision with another galaxy, which sends shock waves rushing through the galaxy. In the case of M82, astronomers think that a brush with its neighbor galaxy M81 millions of years ago set off this torrent of star formation.
This optical and infrared image from the Digitized Sky Survey shows the crowded field around the binary system GRS 1915+105 (GRS 1915 for short) located near the plane of our Galaxy. The top-left inset shows a close-up of the Chandra image of GRS 1915 , and the bottom-right inset shows the remarkable "heartbeats" seen in the X-ray light from this system. Using Chandra and the Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer (RXTE), astronomers have discovered what drives these heartbeats and given new insight into the ways that black holes can regulate their intake and severely curtail their growth.
Today is the first official day of the American Astronomical Society meeting here in Seattle (Twitter user? The hashtag is #aas217). Right now, scientists are announcing the first rocky planet found by NASA's Kepler mission. Later on, there will be a black hole press conference -- including Chandra data! -- and then news from Fermi on the gamma-ray sky. While this news is being announced, here is a little behind-the-scenes information on this process.
The combined observations from multiple telescopes of Henize 2-10, a dwarf starburst galaxy located about 30 million light years from Earth, has provided astronomers with a detailed new look at how galaxy and black hole formation may have occured in the early Universe. This image shows optical data from the Hubble Space Telescope in red, green and blue, X-ray data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory in purple, and radio data from the National Radio Astronomy Observatory's Very Large Array in yellow. A compact X-ray source at the center of the galaxy coincides with a radio source, giving evidence for an actively growing supermassive black hole with a mass of about one million times that of the Sun.
What constitutes 'fun' for astronomers? Well, besides getting new data and results, it might be *talking* about their new data and results. A lot of astronomers will get a chance to do this next week at the twice-annual American Astronomical Society meeting. This one is happening in Seattle, WA, where, in addition to rain, many new and exciting discoveries are expected. Chandra will have new stories coming out on Wednesday and Thursday so keep an eye open for those here. We'll be posting more information as we go, but in the meantime, here's an official announcement about next week's meeting:
Jonathan Taylor, Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at De Montfort University in the UK, wrote two poems called 'History Lesson' and 'Black Hole in B-Flat,' both inspired by Chandra discoveries, and featured on Chandra's blog. Because of the success of these poems, Chandra and De Montfort University subsequently ran a competition for Creative Writing undergraduate students, in which they were invited to submit poems inspired by one of Chandra's press releases. The competition aimed to uncover the poetry inherent in the kind of scientific discovery undertaken by Chandra, and the four winning entries certainly succeeded in doing precisely that.
Here are the first and second placegetters in the competition. The third and fourth placegetters included in a previous blog posting.
This is a hectic season with many reasons to celebrate. One of the oldest and, in many ways, practical rites during this time in December involves marking the winter solstice. Today, we know it as the shortest day (or longest night) in the Northern Hemisphere, and this year, the moment occurs at 6:38 pm Eastern time on Tuesday, December 21st.
Today is the anniversary of Carl Sagan's death back in 1996. For those of us who have dedicated our professional lives to communicating astronomy to the general public, we owe him a great deal of gratitude. After all, it was Carl Sagan who helped make astronomy accessible for everyone -- and emphasized the importance of doing so. His books, TV series, and public appearances really helped galvanize the public's interest in what lies beyond planet Earth.
Today, astronomy has many telescopes and observatories working to study the cosmos. And, most of these major facilities have education and public outreach offices – including Chandra – to help disseminate these results. We are thankful that those who came before us, like Carl Sagan, who helped paved the way for the work we are able to do.
-Megan Watzke, CXC
This two-panel graphic contains two composite images of galaxies used in a recent study of supermassive black holes. In each of the galaxies, data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory are blue, and optical data from the Sloan Digital Sky survey are shown in red, yellow and white. The galaxy on the left, Abell 644, is in the center of a galaxy cluster that lies about 920 million light years from Earth. On the right is an isolated, or "field," galaxy named SDSS J1021+1312, which is located about 1.1 billion light years away. At the center of both of these galaxies is a growing supermassive black hole, called an active galactic nucleus (AGN) by astronomers, which is pulling in large quantities of gas.
With the seeming time warp of the holiday season upon us, we decided to look up the answer to a question submitted by a Chandra visitor some time ago on the relationship of time and gravity. (Disclaimer: you may not use this text as an excuse to why you forgot to get your 'favorite' relative a gift this year. That's on you - not Einstein.)
Why is time influenced by gravity?
Einstein's theory of relativity showed that space and time are not independent. One consequence of this is that time can appear to pass more rapidly or slowly for two different observers depending on their relative velocities and acceleration. According to the theory of relativity, acceleration and gravity are equivalent, so gravity can affect the flow of time.
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