Previously unknown black hole shows itself in new x-ray imaging

Space Science
rexisblackhole

This visualization simulates an X-ray outburst from the black hole MAXI J0637-043, detected by the REXIS instrument on NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, as it moves through REXIS’s line of sight. At first, the outburst is visibly intense, but it gradually fades as it subsides. The animation was constructed using data collected by the X-ray spectrometer while REXIS was making observations of the space around asteroid Bennu on Nov. 11, 2019.
(NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona/MIT/Harvard)

Leave it to something out of this world to redefine what it means to photobomb a picture. The unexpected image came from the spacecraft known as OSIRIS-REx.

The OSIRIS-REx launched a little over 3 ½ years ago carrying the powerful Regolith X-ray Imaging Spectrometer (REXIS). Simply put, this equipment can see outbursts of x-rays from stars and black holes.

The team managing the project was imaging the constellation Columba while making observations off the limb of asteroid Bennu. It was during this, on November 11th of last year, that the team saw something out of the ordinary.

In a series of images you can see the x-ray flare. “Our initial checks showed no previously cataloged object in that position in space,” said Branden Allen, a Harvard research scientist and student supervisor who first spotted the source in the REXIS data.

NASA says the black hole activity being seen is 30,000 light years away. Meaning what we’re now seeing happened around 30,000 years ago.

Madeline Lambert, an MIT graduate student who designed the instrument’s command sequences that showed the black hole said, “Detecting this X-ray burst is a proud moment for the REXIS team. It means our instrument is performing as expected and to the level required of NASA science instruments.”

X-ray blasts, like the one emitted from the newly discovered black hole, can only be observed from space since Earth’s protective atmosphere shields our planet from X-rays. These X-ray emissions occur when a black hole pulls in matter from a normal star that is in orbit around it. As the matter spirals onto a spinning disk surrounding the black hole, an enormous amount of energy (primarily in the form of X-rays) is released in the process.

NASA.gov

NASA states the main purpose of the REXIS instrument is to prepare the next generation of scientists, engineers, and project managers in the development and operations of spaceflight hardware.

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