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The New All-Sky Monitor Movie: 10 Years of RXTE! RXTE

A Ten-Year, Time-Lapsed Movie of the Galaxy

(caption for the "New ASM Movie: 10 years of RXTE!" on the RXTE Movies page.)

The night sky has been a source of wonder since the dawn of humankind.  The countless stars seem immaculate and immutable.  Although the positions of stars change from season to season, the stars themselves appear as steady beacons to our eyes.  But viewed in X-ray light, the universe is radically different.

If our eyes could detect X-ray radiation, we would see objects far more energetic than ordinary stars---some flickering on and off like fireflies, others erupting like volcanoes.  Black holes, neutron stars and pulsars locked in tight binary star systems... these are objects that suddenly "turn on" for weeks or months at a time before growing dormant for years or decades.  They are powered by the whims of accretion---unpredictable flows of hot gas from companion stars under the force of extreme gravity.

This movie depicts 10 years of continuous monitoring of the X-ray sky based entirely on actual data from NASA's Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer, launched on December 30, 1995.  Note how some objects flicker into existence and disappear for months on end.  Others are relatively steady sources of X-rays yet they glow brighter and dimmer depending on their fuel supply.

Blue represents the most energetic X-rays detected; green, less energetic; and red, the least energetic.  In general, blue sources are high-mass X-ray binary pulsars; red sources are low-mass X-ray binaries. Many steady sources are green, such as the Crab pulsar which is the source at the far right. 

The bright source in the center above the galactic plane is Scorpius-X1, the first cosmic X-ray source ever detected and now believed to be a neutron star.  Cygnus X-1, a black hole candidate, is a bright source on the galactic equator just to the left of the activity in the galactic center.

The movie was created by Donald A. Smith (MIT), Michael Muno (UCLA), Alan M. Levine (MIT), Ronald Remillard (MIT), Edward Morgan (MIT) and Hale Bradt (MIT).  The data comes from the MIT-built All-Sky Monitor, one of three instruments on the Rossi Explorer.

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This page is maintained by the RXTE GOF and was last modified on Wednesday, 01-Mar-2006 17:26:44 EST.