Chandra Highlights from the AAS: Black Holes and Jelly Beans

Last week, the American Astronomical Society held its bi-annual meeting in Austin, TX. (The AAS, as it's known, always has a winter meeting in early January and then a spring meeting around Memorial Day.) The AAS meetings are important because the AAS is the largest professional group of astronomers in the US and so they often bring some of their most exciting results to share.

As usual, Chandra had some interesting announcements to make. Let's go over them in chronological order. First up, Chandra released an ultra-deep image of Centaurus A. (By "ultra-deep" we mean that Chandra sat and stared at this one object for over seven days.) This gave the best look ever in X-rays at this nearby galaxy that has a supermassive black hole at its center. This black hole is producing an enormous jet and, to be honest, the whole region is just interesting.

On that same day, Google announced the launch of its next version of the Sky in Google Earth. (See previous post.) This is just one of the new ways people are coming up with to explore all types of astronomical data, including those from Chandra.

The last press event of the meeting for Chandra centered on supermassive black holes. These are the monsters sitting inside of probably every galaxy. A team of researchers used Chandra data along with theoretical calculations to show that most supermassive black holes are spinning really, really fast. Check back with to the Chandra blog for more details soon.

At the Chandra booth in the exhibit hall, we also tried something new. We put out a 1.5 gallon jar and filled it with 5,100 jelly beans. The trick was we didn't just fill the jar with randomly color jelly beans. Instead, we made 96% of them black (that's a lot of black licorice) and 4% of them multicolored. Why, you might ask? Well, the black jelly beans represented the "dark Universe" that consists of 70% dark energy and 26% dark matter, with 4% being "normal" matter that includes galaxies, stars, planets -- everything else. We held a contest to see who could calculate (or guess) the number. The one who had the closest to the actual won the jelly beans and a Chandra calendar. We had over 80 entries -- largely from the younger set at the meeting -- so we think it was a success. Whether the winner will actually eat all those black licorice beans is another question for another blog. Read more on the jelly bean Universe. AAS Jelly Bean Contest Stats:

Actual number of jelly beans in the jar: 5,100
Total number of contest entries: 95
-Number of answers under 5,100 by 1,000 or more: 56
-Number of answers over 5,100 by 1,000 or more: 20
-Number of of answers over/under within 1,000: 9
Winning answer: 5,101 (J. Carroll, of Rochester, NY)

So, it was a really exciting AAS meeting for Chandra. If you are interested in what else NASA released at this meeting, take a look at the NASA portal.

-Megan Watzke, CXC

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