Jul 31, 2016 I Charley Cameron

NASA Photo Shows Chorus of X-Rays from Supermassive Black Holes

Black holes themselves are--so far--completely impossible to photograph, but what we can see are the effects they have on the surrounding cosmos; and one of their most stunning tricks is to expel high-energy X-rays. And for the first time NASA, with the use of the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, has been able to photograph what they call a "song of X-rays, coming from a chorus of millions of black holes."

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The blue glow from the X-rays highlights the region around an individual black hole, and forms as a black hole grows, increases its gravitational pull and drags more matter into its center. As this matter heats up, it comes close to reaching the speed of light, and generates X-rays. Some of these rays are pretty faint, but those emitted by a supermassive black hole shine much brighter.

But until recently, NASA couldn't pick up these high-energy X-rays clearly. As Fiona Harrison, the principal investigator of NuSTAR said in a statement:

Before NuSTAR, the X-ray background in high energies was just one blur with no resolved sources. To untangle what's going on, you have to pinpoint and count up the individual sources of the X-rays.

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Which NuSTAR is now able to do, and with that NASA hopes to be able to get a much better understanding of exactly what is going on at these supermassive black holes and their X-ray glows. Who knows, perhaps they'll be able to solve the puzzles of black holes with 45,000 mile-an-hour winds and random objects flying out of them as well.

Daniel Stern, the project scientist for NuSTAR at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said:

We knew this cosmic choir had a strong high-pitched component, but we still don't know if it comes from a lot of smaller, quiet singers, or a few with loud voices. Now, thanks to NuSTAR, we're gaining a better understanding of the black holes and starting to address these questions.

Charley Cameron

Charley Cameron is a freelance writer based in New Orleans. Born and raised in Northern England, she moved to the U.S. to study photography and new media at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

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