The Black Heart of M31

The Andromeda galaxy, M 31, is the nearest spiral galaxy neighbor of the Milky Way. By studying M31 it's like looking at the Milky Way from the outside, and structures and objects hidden in the Milky Way by intervening clouds of gas, dust and stars can be seen clearly in Andromeda. The image above shows an X-ray image by the Chandra X-ray Observatory's ACIS camera of the center of Andromeda, which houses a supermassive black hole (with a mass equal to that of 30 million suns), seen as the blue dot at the center of the image. A similar object is thought to live at the center of the Milky Way, but it's harder to see as clearly. The black hole at the center of Andromeda is especially cool, with a temperature of "only" 1 million degrees. Astronomers think that the black hole glows in X-rays as it swallows nearby clouds of gas and stars. At a distance of 2.5 million light years from us, the earth is safely beyond the pull of the M31 black hole. The other bright sources in the image are probably solar mass neutron stars orbiting relatively normal stars.

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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 June 2, 2000