Astrophysics Branch

Marshall Space Flight Center's Astrophysics Branch uses space and ground-based observatories to peer back to the earliest epochs of the universe, unravel its mysteries, and study the most violent explosions in our galaxy and beyond. Our goal is to help discover how the universe works, explore how it began and evolved, and search for life on planets around other stars.

Artist's Concept of a Quasar

Chandra Images: Reflections from a Black Hole

A composite Chandra X-ray (blue/green) and Hubble optical (red) image of NGC 1068 shows hot gas blowing away from a central supermassive black hole at speeds averaging about 1 million miles per hour. The elongated shape of the gas cloud is thought to be due to the funneling effect of a torus, or doughnut-shaped cloud, of cool gas and dust that surrounds the black hole. The X-rays are scattered and reflected X-rays that are probably coming from a hidden disk of hot gas formed as matter swirls very near the black hole. Regions of intense star formation in the inner spiral arms of the galaxy are highlighted by the optical emission.

This 2003 composite X-ray (blue and green) and optical (red) image of the active galaxy, NGC 1068, shows gas blowing away in a high-speed wind from the vicinity of a central supermassive black hole. Regions of intense star formation in the inner spiral arms of the galaxy are highlighted by both optical and X-ray emission. The elongated shape of the gas cloud is thought to be due to the funneling effect of a torus, or doughnut-shaped cloud, of cool gas and dust that surrounds the black hole. The torus, which appears as the elongated white spot in the accompanying 3-color X-ray images, has a mass of about 5 million Suns. Radio observations indicate that the torus extends from within a few light years of the black hole out to about 300 light years. The X-rays observed from the torus are scattered and reflected X-rays that are probably coming from a hidden disk of hot gas formed as matter swirls very near the black hole. The torus is one source of the gas in the high-speed wind, but the hidden disk may also be involved. X-ray heating of gas further out in the galaxy contributes to the slower, outer parts of the wind. For more information visit:
https://www.nasa.gov/image-feature/reflections-from-a-black-hole

Advanced Telescope for High Energy Astrophysics X-Ray and Cryogenic Facility Mirror Module Calibration and Testing

The submittal of a Preliminary Design and Analysis of Mechanical Ground Support Equipment Statement of Work (SOW) was completed, and provided to PS51, in support of ATHENA XRCF mirror calibration activities.  A Request for Proposal (RFP) release is anticipated to occur no later than 3/10/21. The short-term design task agreement is intended to assess the potential reuse/modification of existing James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) Center of Curvature Optical Bench (CoCOB) hexapod.  If feasible, the CoCOB hexapod will be utilized as a Mirror Positioning System (MPS) for the ATHENA Mirror Assembly Module Demonstrator (MAMD) calibration and test campaign. Early identification of any concept-level design impacts and reuse feasibility will potentially mitigate the necessity to procure a new MPS.

Athena

Supernova 1987A: Reclusive Neutron Star May have been Found in Famous Supernova

Chandra issued an image and press release on 2/23/21, “Supernova 1987A: Reclusive Neutron Star May Have Been Found in Famous Supernova.” Astronomers now have evidence from two X-ray telescopes (Chandra and NuSTAR) for a key component of a famous supernova remnant.  Supernova 1987A was discovered on Earth on 2/24/87, making it the first such event witnessed during the telescopic age.  For decades, scientists have searched for a neutron star in SN 1987A, i.e., a dense collapsed core that should have been left behind by the explosion.  This latest study shows that a "pulsar wind nebula" created by such a neutron star may be present. For more information visit:
https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/chandra/images/reclusive-neutron-star-may-have-been-found-in-famous-supernova.html.

Chandra reclusive supernova

Chandra "Reach Across the Stars: A Universe of Explorers" App Featured by the Apple Corporation for Women's History Month

The Apple corporation is featuring Chandra’s "Reach Across the Stars: A Universe of Explorers," App for Women's History Month 2021. They are also featuring it under a section of their site entitled, “Apps Made by Women”.

Imaging X-Ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) Modal Testing at Ball Aerospace

IXPE mission_1019

During the week of 2/22-26/21, MSFC assembly team members and Ball Aerospace technicians installed doublers (metal plates) onto the MMA 4 Front Outer Thermal Shield Standoff bond joint. These doublers are required for the MMA to accommodate test loads necessary to qualify the Center Tube to Mirror Module Support Structure (MMSS) bond joint on the IXPE Observatory.  MSFC and Ball Aerospace personnel installed a total of 9 doublers.  The activity served as training for the Ball Aerospace personnel, who will perform the doubler installation on flight units, MMA 1 and MMA 3, while they are mounted in the Observatory.  MSFC has shipped the doublers, epoxy, and tools for the installation at Ball Aerospace.  MSFC will provide technical support remotely for the doubler installation at Ball Aerospace planned to start the week of March 16.

Chandra Cycle 23 General Observer Program Proposal Response

The Chandra science program has received a total of 517 Cycle 23 proposals in response to the Cycle 23 Call for Proposals, with the final due date of 3/16/20.  The associated total observation time oversubscription rate is estimated at greater than 5.

PJ352-15: Gigantic Jet Spied from Black Hole in Early Universe

Chandra Jet

Chandra issued an image and press release on 3/9/21, “PJ352-15: Gigantic Jet Spied Astronomers may have discovered the most distant jet emitting X-rays. The source of this jet is a rapidly growing supermassive black hole, or quasar, located about 12.7 billion light years away from Earth.  Chandra data revealed this jet extends for about 160,000 light years, or longer than the entire span of the Milky Way.  This result may help explain how the biggest black holes formed so quickly. For more information visit:
https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/chandra/images/gigantic-jet-spied-from-black-hole-in-early-universe.html

Patent Awarded for Advanced Neutron Spectrometer (ANS) Tech Knowledge

A patent was awarded to NASA & UAH for the development of the Advanced Neutron Spectrometer (ANS) that serves as the basis of 2 flight instruments (ANS-ISS & Neutron Monitor on the Lunar Surface-NMLS) and several test articles. The development was funded under Advanced Exploration Systems as part of the JSC RadWorks Project. Five primary contributors to the ANS concept, design, testing and analysis are identified as the inventors: Evgeny N. Kuznetsov (UAH), Jeffrey A. Apple (ES61), Brian F. Gibson (ES34), John W. Watts (UAH/CSPAR), and Mark Joseph Christl (ST12).

ANS

Sagittarius A East: Rare Blast's Remains Discovered in Milky Way Center

Saggitarius A East

Chandra issued an image release on 2/8/21, “Sagittarius A East: Rare Blast’s Remains Discovered in Milky Way Center.”  Scientists have discovered the first evidence for a rare type of stellar explosion, or supernova in the Milky Way.  This intriguing object lies near the center of our galaxy in a supernova remnant called Sagittarius A East (Sgr A East).  Chandra data revealed that Sgr A East may belong to a special group of Type Ia supernovas.  This result helps astronomers understand the different ways that white dwarf stars can explode. For more information visit:
https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/chandra/images/rare-blast-s-remains-discovered-in-milky-way-center.html

ATHENA X-ray and Cryogenic Facility (XRCF) Mirror Module Calibration and Testing

The XRCF team has been working on several simultaneous technical efforts, including designing the facility-specific metrology and Mirror Assembly Module Demonstrator (MAMD) shutter systems, working the interfaces to the mirror positioning system to be developed at the XRCF, and thermal modeling of the XRCF large vacuum chamber with the inclusion of the Advanced Telescope for High Energy Astrophysics (ATHENA) mirror test position. The thermal modeling efforts will help inform ESA’s decisions for potential thermal gradient tests, as well as structural considerations for mirror assembly hardware built by ESA contractors.

Chandra Data Sonification Featured in Smithonian and Harvard Gazzette

Chandra, “Data Sonification: Sounds from Around the Milky”, made it into the Smithsonian February 2021 edition.  Scientists have long translated the digital data from far reaching telescopes into visual representations of the universe… but what if we had an auditory representation, too? The results are a hauntingly beautiful depiction of the Milky Way and nearby galaxies. For more information visit:
https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/chandra/news/data-sonification-sounds-from-around-the-milky-way.html.

On 1/25/21, Lonnie G. Bunch, III tweeted, “Did you hear that the Crab Nebula released a new single?  I’m enjoying listening to cosmic objects through the sonification of data collected by telescopes, including @chandraray, which is operated for NASA by our @CenterForAstro.” For more information visit:
https://twitter.com/SmithsonianSec/status/1353774943524286464.

Chandra, “Data Sonification: Sounds from Around the Milky”, also made it into the Harvard Gazette January 2021 edition. In the article, Data Sonification is described as cosmic synesthesia. Listen to a picture of the galaxy, sounds that jingle and chime, bellow and creak in a mix that sounds at times vaguely New Age, at others like John Cage performing amid a forest nor’easter. For more information visit:
https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2021/01/harvard-scientist-turns-space-images-into-music/

Chandra: Taken Under the "Wing" of the Small Magellanic Cloud

Chandra, “Taken Under the ‘Wing’ of the Small Magellanic Cloud”, is featured in NASA image of the day 2/5/21.  The tip of the "wing" of the Small Magellanic Cloud galaxy is dazzling in this 2013 view from NASA's Great Observatories. The Small Magellanic Cloud, or SMC, is a small galaxy about 200,000 light-years way that orbits our own Milky Way spiral galaxy. For more information visit:
https://www.nasa.gov/image-feature/taken-under-the-wing-of-the-small-magellanic-cloud

New Chandra observations have been used to make the first detection of X-ray emission from young stars with masses similar to our Sun outside our Milky Way galaxy. The Chandra observations of these low-mass stars were made of the region known as the "Wing" of the Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC), one of the Milky Way's closest galactic neighbors. In this composite image of the Wing the Chandra data is shown in purple, optical data from the Hubble Space Telescope is shown in red, green and blue and infrared data from the Spitzer Space Telescope is shown in red. Astronomers call all elements heavier than hydrogen and helium - that is, with more than two protons in the atom's nucleus - "metals". The Wing is a region known to have fewer metals compared to most areas within the Milky Way. The Chandra results imply that the young, metal-poor stars in NGC 602a produce X-rays in a manner similar to stars with much higher metal content found in the Orion cluster in our galaxy.

Chandra Released J1027 and J10708 Audio Visual Description for the Visually Impaired

Continuing a long history of outreach materials geared toward and making them accessible to those with visual impairments, Chandra released, on 1/14/21, an audio visual description for the visually impaired to better experience “Galaxies Hit Single, Double, and a Triple (Growing Black Holed)”, J1027 and J1708. For more information visit:
https://chandra.si.edu/photo/2021/dualagn/dualagn_description.txt  (Text) https://chandra.si.edu/photo/2021/dualagn/dualagn_description_audio.mp3 (Audio) https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/chandra/images/galaxies-hit-single-doubles-and-a-triple-growing-black-holes.html

Galaxies Hit Single, Doubles, and a Triple (Growing Black Holes)

Chandra double triple

Chandra issued an image release on 1/14/21, “Galaxies Hit Single, Doubles and a Triple (Growing Black Holes).  A new study looked at triple galaxy mergers to learn what happens to their supermassive black holes.  The results find a single, four doubles, a triple giant black hole remain in six of the seven mergers.  A team used several telescopes including Chandra plus specially-developed software to identify these growing black holes.  This helps astronomers better understand what role mergers play in how galaxies and their giant black holes grow. For more information visit:
https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/chandra/images/galaxies-hit-single-doubles-and-a-triple-growing-black-holes.html.

Advanced Telescope for high Energy Astrophysics (ATHENA) X-ray and Cryogenic Facility (XRCF) Mirror Module Calibration and Testing

Per Science and Technology Office approval in December 2020, onsite work at the XRCF for ATHENA resumed on 1/4/21. The team has begun safe onsite inspection of older systems scheduled for upgrades necessary to achieve ATHENA mirror calibration testing objectives. Additionally, beam detector hardware procured in December has arrived, and computer system components and software from recently approved procurements have been approved and will be delivered and installed at the XRCF in late January to complete XRCF Data Acquisition System Upgrade phase 2 activities.

ATHENA

On 1/12/21, NASA Astrophysics Division (APD) Director Paul Hertz approved an increase in the NASA contribution of hardware for ATHENA mirror calibration activities at the XRCF. ESA had requested for the XRCF to contribute additional NASA-provided hardware for a metrology system at the XRCF, as well as a shutter mechanism for mirror test campaigns. The XRCF team will now receive additional funding to immediately commence design work and hardware procurements for these approved additions. To aid the effort, the XRCF team has formalized beginning work this month with the special test equipment branch (ET50) on mechanical ground support equipment (MGSE) design, and the scope of the work will now also include aiding metrology and shutter system designs.

ABELL 2261: On the Hunt for a Missing Giant Black Hole

Chandra, “Finding a Missing Black Hole”, is featured on NASA 1/13/21 image of the day.  Despite searching with NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and Hubble Space Telescope astronomers have no evidence that a distant black hole estimated to weigh between 3 billion and 100 billion times the mass of the Sun is anywhere to be found.  The missing black hole should be in the enormous galaxy in the center of the galaxy cluster Abell 2261, which is located about 2.7 billion light years from the Earth.  This composite image of Abell 2261 contains optical data from Hubble and the Sabaru Telescope showing galaxies in the cluster and in the background, and Chandra X-ray data showing hot gas (colored pink) pervading the cluster.  The middle of the image shows the large elliptical galaxy in the center of the cluster. For more information visit: https://www.nasa.gov/image-feature/finding-a-missing-black-hole.

This image of Abell 2261 contains X-ray data from Chandra (pink) showing hot gas pervading the cluster as well as optical data from Hubble and the Subaru Telescope that show galaxies in the cluster and in the background. Astronomers used these telescopes to search galaxy in the center of the image for evidence of a black hole, weighing between 3 and 100 billion times the Sun, that is expected to be there. No sign of this black hole was found, deepening a mystery about what is happening in this system.

On 1/19/21, Chandra was cited in a New York Times article, "Missing: One Black Hole with 10 Billion Solar Masses" by Dennis Overbye, In the article, Chandra is mentioned as one of a group of telescopes collectively searching for a missing black hole.  To read that article, go to: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/19/science/astronomy-black-hole-abell.html?referringSource=articleShare.

Neutron Measurements on the Lunar Surface (NMLS) Flight Unit Completes Environmental Testing, Flight Spare Assembly and Functional Testing Completed

NMLS 1
NMLS 2

Neutron Measurements on the Lunar Surface (NMLS) is a project to deliver an instrument manifested on Astrobotic Technology’s Peregrine Lander Mission One, to be launched late-2021 on the new ULA Vulcan Centaur, landing on the Lacus Mortis plateau (44oN, 25oE). Astrobotic was selected as a commercial lander provider to deliver fourteen payloads to the lunar surface under the NASA Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative. The NMLS instrument is a re-design of the Fast Neutron Spectrometer (FNS) currently operating on the ISS enabling lunar surface operation, integration into the Peregrine Lander and measurement of the thermal and epi-thermal neutron count rates on the Moon. The primary science objectives for the NMLS project are to provide ground truth for neutron map data from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and Lunar Prospector missions as well as to constrain surface composition models. Neutrons are created on the Moon’s surface when galactic cosmic rays interact with the lunar regolith, and can provide valuable elemental composition information. In December, the NMLS flight unit completed acceptance EMI, random vibration, and thermal vacuum testing. Delivery is now expected NET March 2021 (decided by the lander provider, previously mid-December). Assembly and functional testing of the NMLS flight spare unit has been successfully completed. Bench calibration testing of the spare unit will continue in the coming months. Funding for the NMLS project is provided through the NASA SMD Lunar Discovery and Exploration (LDEP) Program.

Chandra Featured in the 2020 Marshall Star in Review

Chandra is highlighted for the month of February of the 2020 Marshall Star in Review released on 1/6/21 for spotting a record-breaking black hole explosion. NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory detected the biggest explosion in the universe from 390 million light-years away. For more information visit: go.nasa.gov/2Xe5pHV.

J1818.0-1607: Chandra Studies Extraordinary Magnetar

magnetar

Chandra issued an image release on 1/8/21, "J1818.0-1607: Chandra Studies Extraordinary Magnetar.” Astronomers have recently found the fastest spinning and possibly the youngest magnetar known.  This object, known as J1818.0-1607, is located about 21,000 light years away in the Milky Way galaxy.  Magnetars are a special class of neutron stars that possess extremely powerful magnetic fields.  Researchers used Chandra and other telescopes to learn about the unusual properties of this object. For more information visit:
https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/chandra/images/chandra-studies-extraordinary-magnetar.html.

Marshall at the 237th Meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS)

The LargE Area burst Polarimeter (LEAP) Team presented the LEAP concept at the iPoster-Plus Session on Gamma-Ray Bursts at the 237th AAS meeting. The poster, entitled LEAP - A Large Area Gamma-Ray Burst Polarimeter for the ISS” lead author is  Colleen Wilson-Hodge (ST12), presented on behalf of the LEAP Team.

AAS logo

The Moon Burst Energetics All-sky Monitor (MoonBEAM) Team presented the MoonBEAM concept in the oral session on The Promise of New Technology for High Energy Astrophysics session at the 237th AAS meeting. The talk, entitled “MoonBEAM: A Beyond Earth-orbit Gamma-ray Burst Detector for Multi-Messenger Astronomy,” was presented by the MoonBEAM Principal Investigator, C. Michelle Hui (ST12). Hui was also invited to present a talk entitled “Gamma-rays and Gravitational Waves,” in the NASA Physics of the Cosmos Program Analysis Group (PhysPAG) Multi-Science Interest Group (SIG) Session on  the Status of Multimessenger Astrophysics (MMA).

Tyson Littenberg (ST12) was co-lead for the workshop “Adding LISA to your astronomy toolbox” which shared simulated source catalogs and visualization tools for the Laster Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) gravitational wave observatory, and was a panelist during the Special Sessions “The Next Decade Of Nanohertz Gravitational-wave Astrophysics with Pulsar-Timing Array” and “Everything You Wanted to Know about Gravitational Wave Astronomy but Were Afraid to Ask.”

Oliver Roberts (USRA) presented results from a Nature paper published at the American Astronomical Society Winter meeting on an intriguing high-energy transient called GRB 200415A, which was detected last April by Fermi-GBM and other instruments belonging to the Interplanetary Network or IPN. The IPN would eventually help triangulate the source to a nearby star-bursting galaxy 11 million light years away (the Sculptor Galaxy). Many international teams analyzed this event, including ST12 Fermi-GBM scientists Peter Veres (UAH), Michael Briggs (UAH/CSPAR), Narayana Bhatt (UAH), Dan Kocevski (ST12), Rachel Hamburg (UAH) and Colleen Wilson-Hodge (ST12). The findings from the Nature paper led by Roberts and his colleagues (in collaboration with NASA’s Burst Alert Telescope on the Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory), were critical in determining the source of the transient – a giant flare from a highly magnetized neutron star or magnetar. Giant flares are very rare and overwhelm instrumentation when they occur in our galaxy. The increased distance to this object resulted in data that was spared these debilitating effects, allowing for a better understanding of their nature and putting constraints on the theoretical models used to interpret their behavior.

Chandra Free Rated 4+ App: Exploring the Wonders of the Cosmos

Chandra has made profound discoveries and contributed invaluable information about the cosmos and the wondrous objects within it.  A free, rated 4+ Chandra APP, “Exploring the Wonders of the Cosmos”, 20 years and beyond is available.   Chandra Extreme is an image explorer into the two decades in which Chandra has made profound discoveries and contributed invaluable information about the cosmos and wondrous object within it.  Future updates of Chandra Extreme is a front seat window into the next years of images produced from solving the mysteries of the Universe. For more information visit:
https://chandra.si.edu/app/chandra/.

Chandra strip

StarBurst Selected in NASA's First Pioneer Solicitation

NASA has chosen four small-scale astrophysics missions for further concept development in a new program called Pioneers. Through small satellites and scientific balloons, these selections enable new platforms for exploring cosmic phenomena such as galaxy evolution, exoplanets, high-energy neutrinos, and neutron star mergers.  One of those four is the StarBurst SmallSat led by Principal Investigator Daniel Kocevski (ST12).  This mission will detect high-energy gamma rays from events such as the mergers of dense stellar remnants called neutron stars.

Data Sonification: A New Cosmic Triad of Sound

james@jamesvaughanphoto.com

Chandra issued an image release on 11/30/20, "Data Sonification: A New Cosmic Triad of Sound.” A new installment of 'sonified' objects from space has been released.  Data sonification is the process of turning information collected by telescopes into sounds.  This new trio of images includes the Bullet Cluster, the Crab Nebula, and SN 1987A.  The resulting sounds are based on X-ray, optical and/or infrared data and how they vary across the image. For more information visit:
https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/chandra/news/data-sonification-a-new-cosmic-triad-of-sound.html

Imaging X-Ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) Update

On 12/8/20, the Astrophysics Division of the Science Mission Directorate (SMD) authorized 11/17/21 as the new IXPE Launch Date.  Prior to HQ authorization, LSP/KSC received formal approval from the Eastern Test Range (ETR) to support this new IXPE Launch date.

Meanwhile, the IXPE Calibration team successfully completed readiness review for Telescope Calibration activities on 12/4/20.  The Telescope Calibration Readiness Review was led by an independent review panel made up of MSFC engineering, quality assurance, and safety representatives.  Key stakeholders from the Explorers Program Office and the IXPE Standing Review Board also participated in the virtual review.  The Telescope Calibration in MSFC Stray Light Test Facility began on 12/9/20 and plans to be completed in early January 2021.

The IXPE Calibration team completed Mirror Module Assembly #4 (MMA4) Calibration in MSFC Stray Light Test Facility.

Advanced Telescope for high Energy Astrophysics (ATHENA) X-ray and Cryogenic Facility (XRCF) Mirror Module Calibration and Testing

On 12/7/20 the ATHENA XRCF team received Science and Technology Office (STO) approval to begin onsite work starting 1/4/21, mitigating a risk of COVID-19 impacts to the schedule. The team is making preparations to begin a safe onsite inspection of older systems scheduled for upgrades necessary to achieve ATHENA mirror calibration testing objectives. Additionally, beam detector hardware and computer system components and software from recently approved procurements will be delivered and installed at the XRCF in January to complete XRCF Data Acquisition System Upgrade phase 2 activities.

Athena

On 12/9/20, the ATHENA XRCF team greeted NASA Astrophysics Division (APD) Director Paul Hertz and discussed his upcoming meeting in January with the European Space Agency (ESA) The XRCF team has contacted the special test equipment branch (ET50) to explore considerations for mechanical ground support equipment (MGSE) design, and if approved, metrology and shutter system designs.

Segmented Mirror Technology Program (SMTP) Annual Reviews

SMTP successfully completed the 2020 Annual Reviews for both technology advancement efforts of Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation, Lockheed Martin and associated industry & academic partners on 12/9-10/20.  Detailed status was by presented by both partners and included new design concepts, integrated model development, integrated structural damping, system-level error budgets, metrology and testbed demonstrations.  These studies and demonstrations will help identify future technology investments for the next generation of large space telescopes.

Gamma Ray Burst Monitor (GBM) Operations Manager Added to Debris Avoidance notifications

The Fermi GBM Operations Manager, Lisa Gibby/ESSCA, has been added to the notifications list for NASA Conjunction Assessment Risk Analysis (CARA).  While GBM plays no role in Fermi spacecraft control, it is incumbent upon the GBM Team to stay informed of potential Fermi spacecraft evasive maneuvers that could impact our operations.  In the past, CARA inclusion of contractors required a non-disclosure agreement, but that requirement has recently been waived.  Thus, the formal request was submitted to include L. Gibby and she has now been added to their list as a full participant.  This addition will provide the GBM Team with some duality in the debris tracking realm and should provide the maximum lead time to prepare for any pending spacecraft moves.

Fermi_Spacecraft_Still

IC 4593: A Cosmic Amethyst in a Dying Star

ic4593

Chandra issued an image release on 11/12/20, "IC 4593: A Cosmic Amethyst in a Dying Star”. Chandra has found a bubble of ultra-hot gas at the center of a planetary nebula.  Planetary nebulas are formed when Sun-like stars run out of fuel, shedding their outer layers while the star's core shrinks.  This image contains X-rays from Chandra (purple) and optical light data from Hubble (pink and green).  IC 4593 is at a distance of about 7,800 light years from Earth, which is the farthest planetary nebula detected by Chandra.

For more information visit:
https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/chandra/images/a-cosmic-amethyst-in-a-dying-star.html

Data Sonification: Sounds from the Milky Way Picked up on NASA's Sound Cloud Channel

Data Sonification that was released on 9/22/20 continues to be very popular and was picked up on NASA’s Sound Cloud channel where it accumulated over 1M hits in a week making it the highest item on the NASA playlist so far this year. This resulted in United Press International (UPI) calling Kimberly Arcand (Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory SAO), Visualization Scientist and Emerging Tech Lead, for an interview.  It also accumulated over 1M hits on the Chandra Instagram channel.

For more information visit:
https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/chandra/news/data-sonification-sounds-from-around-the-milky-way.html

Chandra APP Featured on Apple's App of the Day

On 10/30/20, “Reach Across the Stars” Female Space Science Heroes app featured as Apple's App of the Day.  This app allows users to explore the universe and unlock the often-overlooked stories of women and their contributions to space exploration and science.  A user can explore NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory with astronaut Cady Coleman, tour the Crab Nebula pulsar with astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell, and get a behind-the-scenes look at the Mars 2020 rover with Christina Hernandez, an instrument engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "Space, and all science for that matter, isn't for just a certain type or category of person," said Coleman, who was aboard the shuttle mission that launched Chandra into space in 1999. "We need to empower everyone to see themselves in science, be able to make discoveries, and move our understanding of our planet and beyond."For more information visit:
https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/chandra/news/female-space-science-heroes-featured-in-new-interactive-app.html

Women in space illustration

Advanced Telescope for High Energy Astrophysics (ATHENA) X-Ray and Cryogenic Facility (XRCF) Mirror Module Calibration and Testing

The ATHENA XRCF presentation to the Independent Programmatic Assessment on 10/21/20 was well-received and ongoing follow-up conversations with panel members regarding test details continue to go well. The next is scheduled for 11/18/20.  Given the Center remains at Stage 3, the XRCF plans to submit a restart work package to start onsite work in January to prepare the facility for the Mirror Assembly Module Demonstrator (MAMD) test activities.

Imaging X-Ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) Approved to Proceed with Phase D at KDP-D with Science Mission Directorate (SMD) Directorate Program Management Council (DPMC)

On 11/2/20, the SMD DPMC conducted the IXPE Key Decision Point – D (KDP-D) and approved IXPE moving forward into Observatory level Assembly, Integration, and Test. During the KDP-D meeting with NASA HQ officials, the IXPE Principal Investigator (PI) presented the IXPE Mission Science Overview; the IXPE Project Manager (PM) presented a Project Status and Programmatic Assessment, and the IXPE Deputy Project Manager (DPM) presented the Project’s response to the IXPE Standing Review Board (SRB) findings and comments.   The SMD DPMC Chair (Thomas Zurbuchen) congratulated the IXPE team (ASI/Italian Space Agency, MSFC, and Ball Aerospace) for this important accomplishment and encouraged the team to continue the outstanding work as we move to IXPE launch next fall.

In addition, the IXPE Test team completed environmental testing of Mirror Module Assembly #4 (MMA4) and prepared the unit for Calibration in the MSFC Stray Light Test Facility.  The Calibration team is preparing to install MMA4 into the Stray Light Test Facility.

IXPE mission_1019

Assessing the Habitability of Planets Around Old Red Dwarfs

Recent work has demonstrated that high levels of X-ray and UV activity on young M dwarfs may drive rapid atmospheric escape on temperate, terrestrial planets orbiting within the habitable zone. However, secondary atmospheres on planets orbiting older, less active M dwarfs may be stable and present more promising candidates for biomarker searches. In order to evaluate the potential habitability of Earth-like planets around old, inactive M dwarfs, we present new Hubble Space Telescope and Chandra X-ray Observatory observations of Barnard’s Star (GJ 699), a 10 Gyr old M3.5 dwarf, acquired as part of the Mega-MUSCLES program. Despite the old age and long rotation period of Barnard’s star, we observe two FUV (δ130 ≈ 5000s; E130 ≈ 1029.5 erg each) and one X-ray (EX ≈ 1029.2 erg) flares, and estimate a high-energy flare duty cycle (defined here as the fraction of the time the star is in a flare state) of ∼ 25%. A 5 ˚A – 10 µm spectral energy distribution of GJ 699 is created and used to evaluate the atmospheric stability of a hypothetical, unmagnetized terrestrial planet in the habitable zone (rHZ ∼ 0.1 AU). Both thermal and non-thermal escape modeling indicate (1) the quiescent stellar XUV flux does not lead to strong atmospheric escape: atmospheric heating rates are comparable to periods of high solar activity on modern Earth, and (2) the flare environment could drive the atmosphere into a hydrodynamic loss regime at the observed flare duty cycle: sustained exposure to the flare environment of GJ 699 results in the loss of ≈ 87 Earth atmospheres Gyr−1 through thermal processes and ≈ 3 Earth atmospheres Gyr−1 through ion loss processes, respectively. These results suggest that if rocky planet atmospheres can survive the initial ∼ 5 Gyr of high stellar activity, or if a second generation atmosphere can be formed or acquired, the flare duty cycle may be the controlling stellar parameter for the stability of Earth-like atmospheres around old M st

Chandra issued an image and press release on 10/30/20, "Assessing the Habitability of Planets Around Old Red Dwarfs”.  How hospitable are red dwarf stars, the most common and long-lasting stars in our Galaxy?  Researchers used Chandra and Hubble data to look at the intensity and frequency of high-energy flares from one nearby red dwarf.  Barnard's Star is one of the closest stars to Earth at a distance of only 6 light years.  At its age of 10 billion years old, Barnard's Star is still very active and potentially destructive for the atmospheres of any planets orbiting around it. For more information visit:https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/chandra/images/assessing-the-habitability-of-planets-around-old-red-dwarfs.html.

Einstein's Theory of Relativity, Critical for GPS, Seen in Distant Stars

Chandra issued an image and press release on 10/22/20, "Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, Critical for GPS, Seen in Distant Stars”. An effect predicted by Albert Einstein has been identified in a double star system about 29,000 light years from Earth.  This phenomenon, called a 'gravitational redshift,' has been well documented in our Solar System, but it's been more elusive farther away.  Scientists saw evidence for this effect in the X-rays from a system with a neutron star in close orbit with a companion star.  Gravitational redshifts are crucial for maintaining the accuracy of technologies like the global positioning system (GPS). For more information visit:

https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/chandra/images/einstein-s-theory-of-relativity-critical-for-gps-seen-in-distant-stars.html.

The very small accretion disks in ultracompact X-ray binaries are special laboratories in which to study diskaccretion and outflows. Credit: CXC/M.Weiss

Chandra Conducts Program Quarterly Review

The Chandra X-ray Observatory Program conducted a Quarterly Review of mission status on 10/27/2020, via Google Meet.  Members of the Chandra team at MSFC, HQ and on the Chandra X-ray Center contract in Massachusetts attended remotely and reviewed spacecraft health, science instrument status, ground system elements, public outreach, science data system status, and science community support.  The Chandra observatory continues to support a full schedule of science with Advanced CCD Imaging Spectrometer (ACIS) and HRC-I; adept science and mission planning, and operational processes, continue to produce maximal science efficiency.

Chandra

Marshall Astrophysicist Receives Agency Honor Award

Daniel Kocevski (ST12) received a 2020 NASA Group Achievement honor award for his work on the NASA Gravitational Wave Task Force. The task force was assembled by the Science Mission Directorate in 2019 to assess NASA’s role in the future of gravitational wave astrophysics.  The task force presented their findings to the Astrophysics Division Director, Paul Hertz, in late 2019.  The award justification cites “outstanding efforts behind producing a report with immediate impact in preparing NASA for the upcoming era of multi-messenger astrophysics.”

The Recipe for Powerful Quasar Jets

Quasar with jet and magnetic lines. Credit: CXC/M.Weiss

Chandra issued an image and press release on 10/14/20, "The Recipe for Powerful Quasar Jets." Scientists are identifying the reasons why some black holes produce powerful beams, or jets, and others do not. A new study of over 700 quasars (rapidly growing supermassive black holes) has revealed a possible answer. Regions of diffuse hot gas threaded with powerful magnetic fields may dictate whether or not a supermassive black hole generates a jet. This study combined data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, ESA's XMM-Newton, NSF's Very Large Array, and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. For more information visit:
https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/chandra/images/the-recipe-for-powerful-quasar-jets.html.

Neutron Measurements on the Lunar Surface (NMLS) Flight Unit Completion

Neutron Measurements on the Lunar Surface (NMLS) is a project to deliver an instrument manifested on Astrobotic Technology’s Peregrine Lander Mission One, to be launched mid-2021 on the new United Launch Alliance (ULA) Vulcan Centaur, landing on the Lacus Mortis plateau (44oN, 25oE). Astrobotic was selected as a commercial lander provider to deliver fourteen payloads to the lunar surface under the NASA Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative. The NMLS instrument is a re-design of the Fast Neutron Spectrometer (FNS) currently operating on the ISS enabling lunar surface operation, integration into the Peregrine Lander and measurement of the thermal and epi-thermal neutron count rates on the Moon. The primary science objectives for the NMLS project are to provide ground truth for neutron map data from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and Lunar Prospector missions as well as to constrain surface composition models.

Moon surface

Neutrons are created on the Moon’s surface when galactic cosmic rays interact with the lunar regolith, and can provide valuable elemental composition information. Assembly of the NMLS flight unit has been completed and the first round of functional testing has been conducted successfully. Environmental testing on the flight unit will be undertaken in the coming months with delivery to Astrobotic expected in mid-December. Funding for the NMLS project is provided through the NASA SMD Lunar Discovery and Exploration (LDEP) Program.

Steven Ehlert Selected as a Member of the ATHENA Science Working Group

Steven Ehlert (ST12) was selected to supporting the Advanced Telescope for High Energy Astrophysics (ATHENA) as a member of the Science Working Group “The astrophysics of galaxy groups and clusters”, one of the sub-panels of the “Hot Universe” Science Working Group. ATHENA is the European Space Agency’s upcoming Large Mission (~ $1 Billion) X-ray observatory and is currently scheduled to launch in 2031. Mirror module calibration and testing for ATHENA will take place at MSFC’s X-Ray and Cryogenic Facility (XRCF).

Imaging X-Ray Polarimetry Ecplorer (IXPE) Mission System Integration Review (M-SIR)

IXPE representatives from the Italian Space Agency, Ball Aerospace, and MSFC/NASA participated in the IXPE M-SIR on 9/22-23/20.   The SRB assessment was that the project satisfied the success criteria for IXPE System Integration Review (SIR). The SRB chair cited the following strengths during this review: 1) Ball did outstanding job working with I2T (Italy) and MSFC (both virtually) for the inspection and acceptance testing of flight GFE; 2) the Science team’s work with Stanford University to develop a new algorithm to improve overall science return from IXPE; 3) they expressed appreciation to NASA’s Launch Service Provider (LSP) at KSC for their ability to work with Project to close on LV interfaces and meets critical design, and 4) Ball’s approach to implement dry run Comprehensive Performance Tests of the subsystems as a schedule risk reduction.

NASA Has Eyes on The Universe

On 9/24/20, the NASA Image of the Day featured a Chandra/Hubble image, “NASA has eyes on the Universe.”  Humanity has “eyes” that can detect all different types of light through telescopes around the globe and a fleet of observatories in space. From radio waves to gamma rays, this "multi-wavelength" approach to astronomy is crucial to getting a complete understanding of objects in space. For more information visit: https://www.nasa.gov/image-feature/nasa-has-eyes-on-the-universe.

Eyes on the Universe

Data Sonification: Sounds from Around the Milky Way

"Data Sonification: Sounds from around the Milky Way" - a new project using sonification turns astronomical images from Chandra and other telescopes into sound.  This allows users to "listen" to the center of the Milky Way as observed in X-ray, optical, and infrared light.  As the cursor moves across the image, sounds represent the position and brightness of the sources.  This project also turned astronomical images of the supernova Cassiopeia A and the "Pillars of Creation" into sound. For more information visit:
https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/chandra/news/data-sonification-sounds-from-around-the-milky-way.html.

LIGO-VIRGO Announce Clear Detection of an Intermediate Mass Black Hole

Tyson Littenberg (Astrophysics Branch) is part of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) Scientific Collaboration and the Virgo Collaboration announced the discovery of GW190521, the most massive gravitational wave binary observed to date. The two inspiralling black holes had masses of about 85 and 66 solar masses, and resulted in the formation of a black hole remnant of 142 solar masses. This remnant provides the first clear detection of an "intermediate-mass" black hole. The discovery was covered in two papers published on 9/2/20: One detailing the detection, published in Physical Review Letters, and the other published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters addressing the astrophysical implications of the discovery. Littenberg served on the editorial team for the implications paper and was a panelist for a live webinar on 9/3/20 presenting the results.

Information about the associated data release and various graphics and animations supporting the announcement are available at https://www.ligo.org/detections/GW190521.php.

Ligo virgo intermediate black hole-merger-poster-sm
LIGO VIRGO Intermediate Mass Black Hole

Dr. Weisskopf Elected as a Legacy Fellow of the American Astronomical Society

Congratulations to Dr. Martin Weisskopf (ST12) ​​​on his recent election as a Legacy Fellow of the American Astronomical Society (AAS). Dr. Weisskopf was recognized as a Legacy Fellow due to his extraordinary achievements and service to the field of astronomy and to the Society.  Please join us in congratulating him on his achievement.

Weisskopf small

Chandra's Open Treasure Trove of Cosmic Delights Featured on News Segment

Chandra issued a new montage of images showcasing the combination of data from telescopes that collect different wavelength science on September 2, 2020. This collection consists of the M82, Abell 2744, Supernova 1987A (SN 1987A), Eta Carinae, Cartwheel Galaxy, and the Helix Nebula.

Humanity has "eyes" that can detect all different types of light through telescopes around the globe and a fleet of observatories in space. From radio waves to gamma rays, this "multi-wavelength" approach to astronomy is crucial to getting a complete understanding of objects in space.

Chandra archives

This compilation gives examples of images from different missions and telescopes being combined to better understand the science of the universe. Each of these images contains data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, as well as, other telescopes. Various types of objects are shown (galaxies, supernova remnants, stars, planetary nebulas), but together they demonstrate the possibilities when data from across the electromagnetic spectrum are assembled. For more information visit: https://chandra.cfa.harvard.edu/photo/2020/archives/

On September 8, 2020 Huntsville News WHNT-19 Station showed a clip on the archived cosmic images consisting that are created with the data from numerous sources, including the CHANDRA X-ray Observatory. To view the clip on WHNT-19 (CBS) go to:

https://playvideo.bulletinintelligence.com/196eb3b793614aa196b38add5f14a46c?pubid=nasa

A Stellar Outburst in Three Dimensions: U. Scorpii

3dmodels_nova_outburst small

Chandra issued a new 3D Print file, U. Scorpii.  This 3D model of a nova outburst of an object called U Scorpii is based on a scientific simulation, informed by observations. It explores the first 18 hours after the last outburst observed on 1/28/10 in the system. Astronomers have seen U Scorpii - which is about 40,000 light years away from us- erupt about once every decade, so this system is due for another outburst very soon. For more information visit: https://chandra.si.edu/deadstar/uscorpii.html.

Imaging X-Ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) Mirror Module Assembly Pre-Ship Review

The IXPE Mirror Module Assembly (MMA) team successfully completed pre-ship review for 3-flight MMAs and Thermal Shields.  The review board consisted of representatives from MSFC Engineering, Safety and Mission Assurance, and the IXPE Project.  The completion of the IXPE MMA assembly, environmental testing and calibration will allow the IXPE team to continue making good progress in meeting critical Mission milestones that have been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Marshall Scientists Present at 13th Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) Symposium

The 13th International LISA Symposium featured a program dedicated to gravitational wave astrophysics, with particular emphasis on sources that can be observed in the millihertz band by the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA), the current status and unique challenges in gravitational theory and analysis for LISA sources, and the latest updates on the development of the LISA mission. The LISA Symposium is a biannual meeting which this year, for the first time, was held completely virtually. Tyson Littenberg (ST12), Kristen Lackeos (MSFC/USRA), and Jessica Page (UAH) each presented results from ongoing development of data analysis algorithms for LISA.

All presentations were recorded and are viewable at https://lisasymposium13.lisamission.org/. The 14th LISA Symposium will take place in July 2022, hosted by the University of Glasgow.

Newly Named Diretor of the Chandra X-ray Center

Dr. Patrick (Pat) Slane of the Center for Astrophysics Harvard and Smithsonian (CfA) has been named the next Director of the Chandra X-ray Center (CXC), which controls science and flight operations for NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory.  "We are thrilled to have Pat take over the reins of the CXC," said Charles Alcock, Director of the CfA, which encompasses the CXC. "It's an extremely important job, but we are confident about placing Chandra under his very capable leadership." Dr. Slane will begin his position as Director on September 28, 2020. He has been involved with Chandra since before launch, including leading the mission planning team, and since 2015 he has also been the Assistant Director for Science at the CXC. His research interests include the study of supernova remnants, young neutron stars, and pulsar wind nebulae. "I have been working in high-energy astrophysics, and specifically X-ray astronomy, for much of my professional career," said Slane. "It is an honor to be taking over as Director of Chandra, which is one of the crown jewels of NASA and all of astrophysics."Dr. Slane will be succeeding Dr. Belinda Wilkes, who has served as the CXC Director since 2014. For more information visit:https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/chandra/news/pat-slane-selected-as-director-of-chandra-x-ray-center.html

Chandra Celebrates 21st Anniversary

Chandra

On July 23, the Chandra X-Ray Observatory celebrated a full 21 years in orbit! The same day in 1999, the space shuttle Columbia mission STS-93 launched from NASA's Kennedy Space Center and began a four-day mission to deliver Chandra to low-Earth orbit.  Chandra achieved orbital insertion via an attached 2-stage Inertial Upper Stage rocket motor and was placed in its final orbit using Chandra's Integral Propulsion System within days of launch. Marshall Space Flight Center has managed all phases of the Chandra program over the years and continues to manage the mission in its operating phase. For details, see: https://www.nasa.gov/centers/marshall/history/this-week-in-nasa-history-chandra-launches-july-23-1999-1.html.

Outbursts from a Double Star System

For decades, astronomers have known about irregular outbursts from the double star system V745 Sco, which is located about 25,000 light years from Earth. V745 Sco is a binary star system that consists of a red giant star and a white dwarf locked together by gravity. These two stellar objects orbit so closely around one another that the outer layers of the red giant are pulled away by the intense gravitational force of the white dwarf.  This material gradually falls onto the surface of the white dwarf. Over time, enough material may accumulate on the white dwarf to trigger a colossal thermonuclear explosion, causing a dramatic brightening of the binary called a nova. Astronomers saw V745 Sco fade by a factor of a thousand in optical light over the course of about 9 days. For details see: https://www.nasa.gov/image-feature/outbursts-from-a-double-star-system​.

Double Star System

Latest Progress Made on the Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE)

IXPE mission_1019

The IXPE Calibration team successfully made a focal length measurement on mirror module assembly (MMA) 3 with the laser tracker.  In addition, the measurement of the optical cube alignment for MMA3 with the optical laser was completed and MMA3 un-installed from the Stray Light Test Facility (STLF).  The team also completed plans to continue on-site work for MMA2  that is on the IXPE primary critical path.  This MMA2  tasks are part of an overall plan that will allow MSFC employees back on-site to perform re-work and regression testing of the MMA2 X-ray optics assembly for use on the IXPE science mission.  ​

The IXPE Calibration team) successfully made a focal length measurement on MMA1 with the laser tracker.  In addition, the measurement of the optical cube alignment for MMA1 with the optical laser was completed and MMA1 un-installed from the STLF.

The IXPE Environmental Test team successfully completed environmental testing on MMA2.  Following completion of environmental testing, MMA2 was installed in the STLF. The IXPE Calibration Team began MMA 2 X-ray calibration measurements starting August 24, 2020.

Ball Aerospace completed Instrument Post-Delivery Checkout Activities on August 14, 2020. The IXPE Instrument team (I2T) in Rome, Italy has completed a review of science data and telemetry logs showing Instrument performance and concluded this data is same as prior to shipment from Italy.  Several Hardware Anomaly Reports (HARs) and Test Anomaly Reports (TARs) were documented in Ball's electronic anomaly reporting system – none impacted the overall Instrument performance.

Kepler Supernova Remnant: Debris from Stellar Explosion Not Slowed After 400 Years

 A new series of Chandra images shows pieces of Kepler's supernova remnant are moving up to 23 million miles an hour.  These are extremely high speeds for an explosion that happened over 400 years ago as seen from Earth.  Researchers used a Chandra spectrum and images obtained in 2000, 2004, 2006 and 2014 to measure the speeds of knots in the remnant.  Kepler is a so-called Type 1A supernova, the thermonuclear explosion of a white dwarf star. https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/chandra/images/keplers-supernova-remnant-debris-from-stellar-explosion-not-slowed-after-400-years.html​.

kepler_3

Marshall Scientists Receive New Grant to Provide X-ray Data to Public

ART XC Logo

The Marshall X-ray team has been awarded follow on work for the Astronomical Roentgen Telescope-X-ray Concentrator (ART-XC) telescope aboard the Spectrum-Roentgen-Gamma observatory (SRG).  They will be providing the high energy astrophysics community survey data, analysis tools, and calibration products for ART-XC.  These products will enable the community to perform a wealth of new scientific inquiries using ART-XC’s unprecedented survey of the entire sky in the 4-30 keV energy band. The mirrors for ART-XC were fabricated and tested here at Marshall by personnel in the Science Division and Engineering Directorate, and survey data from the telescope have been delivered to Marshall periodically since the mission began taking data in December of 2019.

Cases of Black Hole Mistaken Identity

A team of researchers has identified a group of black holes that had previously been mistaken for a different kind of black hole.  This result used data from several telescopes including NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, and the Hubble and Spitzer Space Telescopes.  The 28 supermassive black holes were found in the Chandra Deep Field-South, the deepest X-ray image ever obtained.  This discovery has important implications for understanding how supermassive black holes grows and evolve over billions of years. For details see:
https://www.nasa.gov/chandra/images/cases-of-black-hole-mistaken-identity.html​.

black hole mistaken identity

Advanced Telescope for High Energy Astrophysics (ATHENA) X-ray and Cryogenics Facility (XRCF) Mirror Module Calibration and Testing

The Marshall ATHENA team received an ESA/NASA HQ request to provide a rough order of magnitude for performing the Environmental Test campaign for Qualification Model (QM) and Flight Model (FM) at the XRCF. This additional work would be aimed to capture necessary mirror calibration data while avoiding shipping the mirror structure back-and-forth to Europe between X-ray testing campaigns at XRCF. The team is also releasing the Mechanical Ground Support Equipment procurement necessary for modifications to the XRCF facility to support Mirror Assembly Module Demonstrator (MAMD) testing beginning in January 2021.  Productive ongoing meetings continue with ESA, and have resulted in collaborative refinement of MAMD testing requirements and schedules.

XRCF

SpARCS 1049: Black Hole Fails to do Its Job

SpARCS

A new study reveals what happens when a supermassive black hole in the center of a galaxy cluster stops being active.  By combining data from Chandra, Hubble, and Spitzer data, astronomers found a deluge of star formation in the cluster known as SpARCS1049. SpARCS1049 is producing stars at a rate some 300 times that seen in the Milky Way galaxy.  This result is in contrast with many other clusters that show how active supermassive black holes keep gas too hot to form many stars. For details see: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/chandra/images/black-hole-fails-to-do-its-job.html​.

Chandra Completes Real-Time Operational Reconfiguration of Gyroscopes

A real-time Chandra X-ray Observatory gyroscope reconfiguration activity was successfully performed by the Chandra X-ray Center Operation Teams, beginning on the evening of July 30, 2020 and completing in the early morning of July 31, 2020. The reconfiguration now has Chandra operating with one Inertial Reference Unit (IRU) powered, which includes its two gyroscopes, B1 and B2.  The reconfiguration is predicted to provide relief in thermal trending, relief in constraints on Mission Planning and will provide full redundancy.

LIGO Scientific Collaboration Team Announces Discovery of Object of 2.6 Solar Masses

LIGO VIRGO Mystery Object small

For decades, astronomers have been puzzled by a gap that lies between neutron stars and black holes: the heaviest known neutron star is no more than 2.5 times the mass of our sun, or 2.5 solar masses, and the lightest known black hole is about 5 solar masses. The question remained: does anything lie in this so-called mass gap? Tyson Littenberg (ST12) is part of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration team that announced the discovery of an object of 2.6 solar masses, placing it firmly in the mass gap. The object was found on August 14, 2019, as it merged with a black hole of 23 solar masses, generating a splash of gravitational waves detected back on Earth by LIGO and Virgo. A paper about the detection was ​​published June 23, 2020 in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Before the two objects merged, their masses differed by a factor of 9, making this the most extreme mass ratio known for a gravitational-wave event. Another recently reported LIGO-Virgo event, called GW190412, occurred between two black holes with a mass ratio of about 4:1.

Read the Journal article here: https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.3847/2041-8213/ab960f.

Black Hole Bounty Captured in the Center of the Milky Way

Chandra issued NASA image of the Day on 6/19/20 presenting, "Sagittarius A* Swarm: Black Hole Bounty Captured in the Milky Way Center." Astronomers have discovered evidence for thousands of black holes located near the center of our Milky Way galaxy using data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory. This black hole bounty consists of stellar-mass black holes, which typically weigh between five to 30 times the mass of the Sun. These newly identified black holes were found within three light years — a relatively short distance on cosmic scales — of the supermassive black hole at our Galaxy's center known as Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*).  Theoretical studies of the dynamics of stars in galaxies have indicated that a large population of stellar mass black holes — as many as 20,000 — could drift inward over the eons and collect around Sgr A*. This recent analysis using Chandra data is the first observational evidence for such a black hole bounty.

For details see:
https://www.nasa.gov/image-feature/black-hole-bounty-captured-in-the-center-of-the-milky-way.

sgra_swarm_lg

MSFC Produced X-ray Mirrors Utilized in High Energy Astronomy Picture of the Week

lmc_erosita

The Astronomical Roentgen Telescope – X-ray Concentrator (ART-XC) telescope aboard the Spectrum-Röntgen-Gamma observatory (SRG) recently released its first all-sky survey image in the 4-30 keV energy band. This image was chosen as the High Energy Astrophysics Science Archive Research Center (HEASARC at GSFC) Picture of the Week. The mirrors for ART-XC were fabricated and tested here at MSFC by personnel in the Science Division and Engineering Directorate. The link to the HEASARC Picture of the Week can be found here:

https://heasarc.gsfc.nasa.gov/docs/objects/heapow/heapow.html.

X-rays from a Newborn Star Hint at our Sun's Earliest Days

Astronomers have reported the first detection of X-rays from the earliest phase of evolution of a star like our Sun.  This discovery from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory may help answer questions about the Sun and Solar System as they are today.  The X-ray flare came from the young "protostar" HOPS 383, about 1,400 light years from Earth, during Chandra observations taken in December 2017.  This result may reset the timeline for when astronomers think Sun-like stars start blasting X-rays into space.

For details see: https://chandra.cfa.harvard.edu/photo/2020/hops383/

hops383

Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) System Integrated Checkpoint (SIR-CP)

IXPE representatives from the Italian Space Agency, Ball Aerospace, and MSFC/NASA participated in the IXPE SIR-CP on June 30, 2020. The SIR-CP was conducted by the IXPE Standing Review Board (SRB) and external representatives from the Explorer’s Program Office/GSFC, and NASA HQ/Science Mission Directorate were in attendance.

ixpe_heapow_s

The SRB cited the following strengths during the review: 1) Significant progress made towards completion of IXPE Payload and Spacecraft during extreme conditions 2) I2T (w/Italian Space Agency) completed the flight Instrument for IXPE mission and shipped to MSFC; and 3) MSFC continued to make progress on Mirror Module Assembly flight units following delay due to COVID-19 restrictions.  The IXPE team continues to prepare for Mission Systems Integration Review (M-SIR) in mid-September 2020 and decision on revised Launch Readiness Date (LRD) in the next few weeks.  The SRB praised members of the IXPE team responsible for mitigating possible delays due to late launch vehicle selection and within the existing technical baseline.

A New Galactic Center Adventure in Virtual Reality

Chandra issued an image on June 6, 2020 presenting a new visualization, "Galactic Center VR," featuring simulations of material streaming toward the Milky Way's supermassive black hole known as Sgr A*. Users can experience the last 500 years of cosmic evolution in this area in a free virtual reality program. By providing a six-degrees-of-freedom ("6dof") VR experience, the user can look and move in any direction they choose.

For details see:
https://chandra.harvard.edu/photo/2020/gcenter/

MAXI J1k20+070: Black Hole Outburst Caught on Video

Astronomers have caught a black hole hurling hot material into space at close to the speed of light. This flare-up was captured in a new movie from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory.  A pair of jets blasting away from a black hole at 80% the speed of light has been observed by astronomers.  The stellar-mass black hole (about 8 times the mass of the Sun) is pulling material away from a closely orbiting companion star.  Some of this material does not fall into the black hole and is instead redirected outward as jets.  Four observations from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory taken in 2018 and 2019 allowed astronomers to detect the jets as they slam into surrounding material.

For more information see: https://chandra.cfa.harvard.edu/photo/2020/maxij1820/.

maxij1820_525

The Crab Nebula: Observations Through Time

A new composite of the Crab Nebula with Chandra (blue and white), Hubble (purple), and Spitzer (pink) data has been released.   The star that exploded to create the Crab Nebula was reportedly first seen from Earth in 1054 A.D.  Since its launch in 1999, Chandra has frequently observed the Crab.   X-ray observations have helped astronomers better understand this spectacular object.

For more information see: https://www.nasa.gov/image-feature/the-crab-nebula-observations-through-time.

A new composite image of the Crab Nebula features X-rays from Chandra (blue and white), optical data from Hubble (purple), and infrared data from Spitzer (pink). Chandra has repeatedly observed the Crab since the telescope was launched into space in 1999. The Crab Nebula is powered by a quickly spinning, highly magnetized neutron star called a pulsar, which was formed when a massive star ran out of its nuclear fuel and collapsed. The combination of rapid rotation and a strong magnetic field in the Crab generates an intense electromagnetic field that creates jets of matter and anti-matter moving away from both the north and south poles of the pulsar, and an intense wind flowing out in the equatorial direction.

Marshall Astrophysics Scientists Featured on the U.S. Space and Rocket Center's Video Series "Science Never Stops"

Marshall scientists are featured on the U.S. Space and Rocket Center's Video Series aimed at 10 to 14-year-olds and called "Science Never Stops."  Several of our astrophysics scientists have been interviewed for this series.

  • Dr. Tyson Littenberg talks about the challenges of studying gravitational waves and what future technology will hopefully make it less difficult.
  • Dr. Chien-Ting Chen discusses supermassive black holes and how they impact the galaxies they're in.
  • Dr. Steven Ehlert talks about what it's like working with the Chandra X-ray Observatory
  • Dr. Colleen Wilson-Hodge discusses what it's like to study Gamma-ray Bursts using the Fermi Gamma-Ray Burst Monitor.

Click on this link to see the interviews: https://www.rocketcenter.com/scienceneverstops.

US space and rocket center

Proposal to Study Black Hole in Dwarf Galaxies Selected for Observation by NuSTAR

nustar (1)

The formation and evolution of supermassive black holes found in the center of massive galaxies have remained a puzzle due to the challenges of directly detecting them in the very early universe. On the other hand, black holes in the center of nearby dwarf galaxies are considered as fossil records of those primordial systems since they have gone through much less galaxy merger events compare to typical galaxies.

To study the massive black holes in local dwarf galaxies, MSFC X-ray group scientist Dr. Chien-Ting Chen (USRA) has been awarded 100 ks of NuSTAR Cycle 6 time to observe a nearby dwarf galaxy J144013+024744. Dr. Chen and his collaborators will use the NuSTAR data and archival data from Chandra, Hubble, Spitzer and other ancillary observatories to characterize the property of the massive black hole in this system. This will shed light on the dust-enshrouded black hole population in dwarf galaxies and therefore provide constraints on different primordial black hole seeding scenarios.

Scroll to Top