William Blair is an astrophysicist and research professor at The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md. He penned this blog post to help explain the excitement -- and challenges -- involved with getting a handle on the mysterious ULX (ultraluminous X-ray source) he and his colleagues discovered in the spiral galaxy M83.
The spiral galaxy M83, also known as the Southern Pinwheel Galaxy, is an amazing gift of nature. At 15 million light years away, it is actually one of the closer galaxies (only 7-8 times more distant than the Andromeda galaxy), but it appears as almost exactly face-on, giving earthlings a fantastic view of its beautiful spiral arms and active star-forming nucleus. M83 has generated six observed supernovas since 1923, but the last one seen was in 1983. We are overdue for a new supernova!
Because of all the star formation and supernova activity in M83, we also expect there to be a lot of X-ray binary stars and supernova remnants—the expanding leftovers from old supernovas that stay visible for several tens of thousands of years after the supernova fades. By tying multiwavelength observations of M83 together, my colleagues and I hope to learn a lot about the interplay between the stars and the gas, and how they impact the entire galaxy.