NASA has been using explosion Of X-rays to map the universe. Images captured by the agency show sparkling dots and entangled loops, the result of nearly two years of effort to study cosmic sources of X-rays from orbit.
Mapping the sky has become one of the favorite activities of astrophysicists. While the visible domain already offers many information to scientists, the field of X-rays allows them to track down the main cosmic sources that emit in this range of radiation. NASA has particularly turned to neutron stars, and more specifically pulsars, to observe their cyclic radiation. Moreover, a navigation technology based on this X-ray emission cycle could one day serve as a GPS for future spaceships.
This snapshot recently captured by NASA’s Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER), showing sparkling dots and entangled loops, is the result of nearly two years of effort to study cosmic sources of X-rays from orbit.
Onboard the International Space Station (ISS) is the NICER payload: a car-sized cube called the X-ray Timing Instrument. About an hour and a half after sunset in the ISS orbit, the instrument collects high-energy photons from eight zones per orbit in the night sky.
This image of the sky was produced after 22 months of observation from the ISS thanks to the NICER instrument. Although it can target all cosmic X-ray sources, the instrument is specially calibrated to detect and observe X-ray emissions from neutron stars.
Each curved line is the path drawn when the lens of the instrument moves from one source to another. The small spots and lines are energetic particles hitting the sensors. But the biggest “sparks” are of particular interest, their brilliance resulting both from the time spent by NICER to focus on this place and their large X-ray emission.
Many places in the cosmos are home to neutron stars. However, scientists still know little about these objects. Knowing their precise radius can tell us more about the physics that takes place inside. The researchers hope that this mission can determine their size with a certainty of 95%.
Some of these neutron stars are pulsars. By setting the timing for each scan of X-ray beams, astronomers can get a very detailed set of coordinates. A NICER upgrade called SEXTANT (Station Explorer for X-ray Timing and Navigation Technology) will collect information that should not only help guide the future of the mission, but also contribute to the future exploration of the mission. space.
“Even with minimal processing, this image reveals the Cygnus Loop, a supernova remnant about 90 light-years away, believed to be 5,000 to 8,000 years old. We are gradually building a new x-ray image of all the sky, and it is possible that NICER’s night sweeps will uncover previously unknown sources,” said Keith Gendreau, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.