First Light from Einstein Probe: A Supernova Remnant

Supernova remnant Puppis A

On 9 January 2024, the Einstein probe was launched, its mission to study the night sky in X-rays. The first image from the probe that explores the Universe in these energetic wavelengths has just been released. It shows Puppis A, the supernova remnant from a massive star that exploded 4,000 years ago. The image showed the expanding cloud of ejecta from the explosion but now, Einstein will continue to scan the skies for other X-ray events. 

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Stellar Winds Coming From Other Stars Measured for the First Time

Infrared image of the shockwave created by the massive giant star Zeta Ophiuchi in an interstellar dust cloud. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech; NASA and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA); C. R. O'Dell, Vanderbilt University

An international research team led by the University of Vienna has made a major breakthrough. In a study recently published in Nature Astronomy, they describe how they conducted the first direct measurements of stellar wind in three Sun-like star systems. Using X-ray emission data obtained by the ESA’s X-ray Multi-Mirror-Newton (XMM-Newton) of these stars’ “astrospheres,” they measured the mass loss rate of these stars via stellar winds. The study of how stars and planets co-evolve could assist in the search for life while also helping astronomers predict the future evolution of our Solar System.

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This Black Hole is a Total Underachiever

Anyone can be an underachiever, even if you’re an astronomical singularity weighing over four billion times the mass of the Sun. At least the quasar H1821+643 doesn’t have parents to be disappointed in it. But its underachievement could shed light on how quasars, a potent type of black hole, can come to influence entire clusters of galaxies, as described in a new paper from researchers at the University of Nottingham and Harvard.

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Half the Entire Sky, Seen in X-Rays

This image show half of the X-ray sky, projected onto a circle with the center of the Milky Way on the left and the galactic plane running horizontally. Photons have been colour-coded according to their energy (red for energies 0.3-0.6 keV, green for 0.6-1 keV, blue for 1-2.3 keV). Credit: MPE, J. Sanders for the eROSITA consortium
This image show half of the X-ray sky, projected onto a circle with the center of the Milky Way on the left and the galactic plane running horizontally. Photons have been colour-coded according to their energy (red for energies 0.3-0.6 keV, green for 0.6-1 keV, blue for 1-2.3 keV). Credit: MPE, J. Sanders for the eROSITA consortium

There’s an old trope in science fiction about someone suddenly getting X-ray vision and looking through solid objects. It turns out to be a physical impossibility with our Mark I eyeballs. However, astronomers have found a way around that challenge that lets us study the Universe with X-ray vision.

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Chinese Rocket Lofts the Einstein Probe and its “Lobster Eyes”

Einstein Probe Launch

Any astronomical instrument dubbed “Lobster Eyes” is bound to grab attention. It’s actually unlike scientists to give anything creative names, take the big red coloured storm on Jupiter which resembles a spot…aka the Great Red Spot! Lobster Eyes is the name adtoped by the X-ray telescope that just been launched from China and will scan the sky looking for X-rays coming from high-energy transients. 

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Japan’s New X-Ray Observatory Sees First Light

Supernova remnant N132D lies in the central portion of the Large Magellanic Cloud, a dwarf galaxy about 160,000 light-years away. XRISM’s Xtend captured the remnant in X-rays, displayed in the inset. Although bright in X-rays, the stellar wreckage is almost invisible in the ground-based background view taken in optical light. Credit: Inset, JAXA/NASA/XRISM Xtend; background, C. Smith, S. Points, the MCELS Team and NOIRLab/NSF/AURA

XRISM, the X-ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission, is a joint NASA/JAXA mission led by JAXA. The X-ray space telescope began its mission in low-Earth orbit on September 6th, 2023. Science operations won’t begin until later this year, but the satellite’s science team has released some of the telescope’s first images.

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Spider Pulsars are Tearing Apart Stars in the Omega Cluster

Omega Centauri is the brightest globular cluster in the night sky. It holds about 10 million stars and is the most massive globular cluster in the Milky Way. It's possible that globulars and nuclear star clusters are related in some way as a galaxy evolves. Image Credit: ESO.
Omega Centauri is the brightest globular cluster in the night sky. It holds about 10 million stars and is the most massive globular cluster in the Milky Way. It's possible that globulars and nuclear star clusters are related in some way as a galaxy evolves. Image Credit: ESO.

Pulsars are extreme objects. They’re what’s left over when a massive star collapses on itself and explodes as a supernova. This creates a neutron star. Neutron stars spin, and some of them emit radiation. When they emit radiation from their poles that we can see, we call them pulsars.

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Confirmed. Ultra-Luminous X-Ray Sources are Really That Bright

At the extreme end of astrophysics, there are all sorts of phenomena that seem to be counter-intuitive. For example, how can an object not possibly get any brighter? For a long time, this limit, known as the Eddington limit, was thought to be an upper bound on how bright an object could be, and it was directly correlated with the mass of that object. But observations showed that some objects were even brighter than this theoretical limit, and now data collected by NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) confirms that these objects are, in fact, breaking the Eddington limit. But why?

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The Crab Nebula Looks Completely Different in X-Rays, Revealing its Magnetic Fields

Credits: Magnetic field lines: NASA/Bucciantini et al; X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO; Optical: NASA/STScI; Infrared: NASA-JPL-Caltech

Located about 6,500 light-years away in the constellation Taurus resides one of the best-studied cosmological objects known as the Crab Nebula (aka. Messier 1). Originally discovered in the 18th century by English astronomer John Bevis in 1731, the Crab Nebula became the first object included by astronomer Charles Messier in his catalog of Deep Sky Objects. Because of its extreme nature, scientists have been studying the Crab Nebula for decades to learn more about its magnetic field, its high-energy emissions (x-rays), and how these accelerate particles to close to the speed of light.

Astronomers have been particularly interested in studying the polarization of the x-rays produced by the pulsar and what that can tell us about the nebula’s magnetic field. When studies were first conducted in the 1970s, astronomers had to rely on a sounding rocket to get above Earth’s atmosphere and measure the polarization using special sensors. Recently, an international team of astronomers used data obtained by NASA’s Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) to create a detailed map of the Crab Nebula’s magnetic field that has resolved many long-standing mysteries about the object.

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Hungry Black Hole was Already Feasting 800 Million Years After the Big Bang

Artist view of an active supermassive black hole. Credit: ESO/L. Calçada

Black holes swallow everything—including light—which explains why we can’t see them. But we can observe their immediate surroundings and learn about them. And when they’re on a feeding binge, their surroundings become even more luminous and observable.

This increased luminosity allowed astronomers to find a black hole that was feasting on material only 800 million years after the Universe began.

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