Take a Journey of Discovery with RXTE - Classroom Activity


You and three other Mission Specialists are in the mission control room of the Drew Freeman Research Facility when you receive the following bulletin from NASA.

NASA logo

Important Bulletin from NASA

From: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
To: Drew Freeman Research Facility

We have detected X-ray emission from the Galactic Center region, from a source located approximately 4 kiloparsecs away, in an area in the sky just below the constellation Scorpius. We believe this source is either a black hole or a neutron star. The Rossi X-Ray Timing Explorer (RXTE) satellite has its All-Sky Monitor instrument observing it. We already have a team analyzing the spectrum of this object. We would like your team of light curve experts to work with the data that is arriving at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. We need you to collect, graph, and analyze the data to help to determine whether or not light-curves can accurately identify the source. When our spectrum experts have completed their research, they will share their results with you.

When you are done with your research, we'd like you to write a report answering the following:

1. What are light curves?
2. Why are light curves useful to scientists?
3. What can scientists learn about a source after graphing its light curve?
4. Can light curves really tell us if the source is a black hole or a neutron star?
5. Is the source of X-ray emission a black hole or a neutron star? Justify your answer.

Your final report should also summarize the findings of the Spectrum Team.

Your team eagerly awaits for the data to arrive via computer from Goddard. Anticipation at the Drew Freeman Research Facility is building. This will be the first opportunity for the Drew Freeman team to use data collected from the All-Sky Monitor (ASM), one of the three scientific instruments located on the RXTE.

NASA is relying on your team's expertise to solve this problem. There has been talk around the facility that a special trip will be awarded to your team if they solve the problem accurately. Good luck on your mission!

Proceed to Mission #1.