NASA surveys the black hole populations responsible for emitting high-energy X-rays throughout the sky.
Black holes are some of the most enigmatic objects in the universe and these objects continue to baffle scientists even today.
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Previously, it was thought that black holes were a major source of radiation pervading the universe - a phenomenon astronomers call the cosmic X-ray background. NASA’s Chandra Mission has also managed to identify many of the individual black holes that were contributing to the X-ray background, but the ones that generate high-energy X-ray always remained undetected.
Now, NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR has taken a giant leap toward identifying massive X-ray bursting black holes. In short, the telescope has made a significant progress in revealing the secrets of cosmic X-ray background.
“We've gone from resolving just 2 percent of the high-energy X-ray background to 35 percent,” said Fiona Harrison, the principal investigator of NuSTAR at Caltech and lead author of the study. “We can see the most obscured black holes, hidden in thick gas and dust.”
Supermassive black holes do not give off any of their own light, but are very efficient in attracting surrounding matter and letting it out in the form of powerful X-ray bursts. Collectively, these black holes contribute to light up the entire sky. It is like a chorus of millions of black holes that are singing in high energy X-ray melodies and filling in the universe.
The observations by NuSTAR will help researchers to better understand the feeding behavior of black holes and to detect any changes in this process over time. The feeding patterns ultimately affect the growth of the black hole.
"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.” Harrison said.
Black holes lying at the center of the galaxies accrete gas from their surroundings. As the gas fills in, it heats up to scorching temperatures and radiates X-rays. Though latest findings have given more clues to understand the process but many existing theories are yet to be tested.
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“We know 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," said co-author Daniel Stern. “Now, thanks to NuSTAR, we’re gaining a better understanding of the black holes and starting to address these questions.”