RXTE observation of a medium mass black hole
Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Signal from Beyond

The Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer (RXTE) was a small NASA satellite that, for 16 years, observed variations of X-ray emission from strange objects in space, from neutron stars to black holes, even normal stars and extremely massive colliding wind binary systems. Although decomissioned in 2012, RXTE, over its working lifetime, amassed a unique archive of X-ray data that's still providing important new insights into the way the Universe works. A case in point is a new study of an X-ray source in a galaxy known as M82, a source known as M82 X-1. Using a careful study of the X-ray variations from M82 X-1 seen by RXTE, astronomers were able to establish that M82 X-1 is probably an example of a so-called "middleweight" black hole. These "middleweight" black holes have masses between the stellar mass black holes (which have a mass of a few times the mass of the Sun) and the so-called "supermassive" black holes (those monsters lurking at the centers of galaxies, like our own Milky Way, which have masses of millions or even billions of times the mass of the Sun). These middleweight black holes may be a bridge between the stellar mass and supermassive black holes; or they may be unrelated objects. Astronomers used six years of data stored in the RXTE archive to show that M82 X-1 shows a pattern of X-ray variations characteristic of middleweight black holes. The image above is an image from a video showing how these X-ray variations can be used to "weigh" a black hole. What other hidden gems are waiting to be uncovered in the RXTE data?
Published: September 1, 2014

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Each week the HEASARC brings you new, exciting and beautiful images from X-ray and Gamma ray astronomy. Check back each week and be sure to check out the HEAPOW archive!
Page Author: Dr. Michael F. Corcoran
Last modified Tuesday, 02-Sep-2014 07:54:36 EDT