Finding Patterns


Image: Frank Kovalchek, Wikimedia Commons

One of our favorite games to play with our kids is trying to find recognizable objects in clouds as they pass by on a sunny day. One cloud might look like an elephant, the next, a pirate ship.

Blog Posts on a Black Hole Ripping Apart a Star

We are delighted to welcome guest blog posts from Peter Maksym from the University of Alabama and Davide Donato from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC). These posts give more information about our new press release concerning evidence for a black hole ripping a star apart in a dwarf galaxy. Peter and Davide led two independent studies of this exciting find. We begin with Peter’s blog post.

Doubling Down With Rare White Dwarf Systems

In the middle of the twentieth century, an unusual star was spotted in the constellation of Canes Venatici (Latin for "hunting dogs"). Years later, astronomers determined that this object, dubbed AM Canum Venaticorum (or, AM CVn, for short), was, in fact, two stars. These stars revolve around each other every 18 minutes, and are predicted to generate gravitational waves - ripples in space-time predicted by Einstein.

Getting the Upper Hand on Understanding Neutron Stars

PSR B1509-58

When we released Chandra’s image of the pulsar known as PSR B1509-58 (or, B1509, for short), it received a lot of attention. It's a fascinating object. The pulsar at the center of the image is a rapidly spinning dense star that is spewing out energetic particles into beautiful structures spanning trillions of miles that glow in X-ray light. And, it looks like a giant hand. This fact helped trigger a whole host of other comments about this object found some 17,000 light years from Earth.

Blast From Past Dates Youngest Neutron Star Binary

Sebastian Heinz

We'd like to welcome guest blogger Sebastian Heinz, Associate Professor in the Astronomy Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He received his Ph.D. at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He studies relativistic jets -- a phenomenon observed around black holes and neutron stars, and began work on the project described here when he was a Chandra Postdoctoral Fellow at MIT.

Circinus X-1 had been a puzzle to X-ray astronomers almost from the moment of its discovery. It is an X-ray binary -- a neutron star sucking matter away from a companion star it is in orbit with, and it shines brightly when that matter spirals inward and eventually lands on the neutron star's surface. But it had defied classification into the basic categories scientists have been using for X-ray binaries. In some ways it behaves like a very young source, like the fact that the orbit of the two stars seems to change rapidly (and whenever things change rapidly in astronomy, we tend to infer that they cannot be very old). In other ways, it behaves like an old neutron star -- one that has lost most of the intense magnetic field which neutron stars are believed to be born with. It also blasts powerful streams of hot plasma, called jets, into interstellar space. And that's why I became interested. I study jets and I wanted to know why the jets from Circinus X-1 were able to light up and stay lit on scales of a few light years when other microquasar jets flared and then dimmed.

The Search for a Jet from Sgr A*


We are delighted to welcome a guest blog post from Zhiyuan Li, who led the work explained in our latest press release describing the best evidence yet for a jet from the supermassive black hole in our galaxy. Zhiyuan obtained his PhD at UMass/Amherst and did a postdoc at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. He went on to a Assistant Reseacher position at UCLA, where he worked with Prof. Mark Morris on the Sgr A* jet. He is currently a Professor of Astronomy at Nanjing University in China.

Today most astronomers believe that a supermassive black hole (SMBH), which weighs several million times more than the Sun, lurks at the very center of our Milky Way galaxy. The existence of such an entity was more just a speculation some 40 years back, when the two British astrophysicists, Donald Lynden-Bell and Martin Rees, first proposed the idea. Lynden-Bell and Rees suggested one particular observational test: "Very long baseline interferometry may soon be possible…to determine the size of any central black hole that there may be in our Galaxy" -- and they were right. There soon came the memorable discovery by Bruce Balick and Robert Brown, who in early 1974 used the Green Bank interferometer to find a compact radio source at the expected position. The source is now widely known as Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*) and accepted as the radio counterpart of the putative SMBH. (Most astronomers would use Sgr A* to denote the SMBH, and we do so below.)

New Evidence For A Jet From Milky Way’s Black Hole

New evidence has been uncovered for the presence of a jet of high-energy particles blasting out of the Milky Way's supermassive black hole. As outlined in the press release, astronomers have made the best case yet that such a jet exists by combining X-ray data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory with radio emission from the NSF's Very Large Array (VLA).

Carnival of Space #328

Welcome to this week's Carnival of Space. It's been a busy Universe out there so let's jump right into it.

The Urban Astronomer has an excellent recap of Hubble's observations of a very unusual asteroid. This asteroid not only has a comet-like tail, it has six of them. Oh yeah, and they apparently change.

Over at the Smithsonian's Air & Space blog, they discuss a very provocative issue: if we go back to the Moon, where should we go and, maybe more importantly, where shouldn't we?

In advance of the recent Maven launch to Mars, the good folks over at Universe Today feature an excellent video that summarizes where the Curiosity rover has been and also where it will be heading in the future.

Exploring the Third Dimension of Cassiopeia A


One of the most famous objects in the sky - the Cassiopeia A supernova remnant – will be on display like never before, thanks to NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and a new project from the Smithsonian Institution. A new three-dimensional (3D) viewer, being unveiled today, will allow users to interact with many one-of-a-kind objects from the Smithsonian as part of a large-scale effort to digitize many of the Institutions objects and artifacts.


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