Artist conception of Matter swirling around a Black Hole
Credit: GEMS team

Monitoring the Twist

Ever wonder what space is like just beyond the event horizon of a black hole? It might look something like the image above. According to Einstein, space and time are twisted and contorted by the extreme gravity near a stellar mass black hole. We can trace this distortion by monitoring radiation produced by material being accreted by the black hole. The image above is an artist conception of hot gas riding upon a wave in spacetime around a black hole, based on timing data of black hole systems observed by the Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer. Now an entirely new type of space telescope, called the Gravity and Extreme Magnetism (GEMS) observatory, will make unprecedented studies of black holes, neutron stars and other regions of extreme gravitational physics. GEMS will study how spinning black holes affect space-time and matter; what happens in the super strong magnetic fields near pulsars and magnetars; and how cosmic rays are accelerated by shocks in supernova remnants. It will do this using a unique technology to measure X-ray polarization from black holes, neutron stars and other extreme objects. Polarization refers to the orientation of the direction of vibration of electromagnetic radiation. Radiation can be polarized in a particular direction due to emission or scattering by a non-spherical object. It is one of the few ways astronomers have of studying the geometry of regions which are otherwise far too small to image directly. GEMS was one of two "Small Explorer" missions recently selected by NASA for further development, and is expected to be launched by 2015.
Published: June 29, 2009

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Page Author: Dr. Michael F. Corcoran
Last modified Wednesday, 19-Mar-2014 22:02:03 EDT