NuSTAR Picks Up First Black Hole X-ray Flare Up
October 24, 2012

NuSTAR Picks Up First Black Hole X-ray Flare Up

Lee Rannals for — Your Universe Online

NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) has spotted its first flare from Milky Way's black hole.

The new telescope, launched June 13, is the only telescope capable of producing focused images of the highest-energy X-rays, and NASA said it has caught its first look at the black hole.

"We got lucky to have captured an outburst from the black hole during our observing campaign," Fiona Harrison, the mission's principal investigator at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, California, said in a press release. "These data will help us better understand the gentle giant at the heart of our galaxy and why it sometimes flares up for a few hours and then returns to slumber."

The telescope teamed up with other observatories to look at Sagittarius A*, or Sgr A*, including NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, which sees lower-energy X-ray light, and the W.M. Keck Observatory sitting atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii.

Sgr A* is thought to only nibble, or not eat at all, compared to other black holes which gobble up stars and other fuel.

When black holes consume fuel, they erupt with extra energy, whether eating a star, gas cloud or an asteroid.

NuSTAR picks up X-rays emitted by consumed matter being heated up to about 180 million degrees Fahrenheit and originating from regions where particles are boosted very close to the speed of light.

Astronomers say NuSTAR's data will help them better understand the physics of how black holes snack and grow in size.

"Astronomers have long speculated that the black hole's snacking should produce copious hard X-rays, but NuSTAR is the first telescope with sufficient sensitivity to actually detect them," NuSTAR team member Chuck Hailey of Columbia University in New York City, said in the press release.