Science never ceases to amaze. As a new telescope named the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, was developed by NASA, a team of researchers used it to obtain a first time X-ray of the Andromeda galaxy.
- Andromeda is considered to be the Milky Way’s sister galaxy
- Only 2.5 billion light years away, Andromeda is quite close in cosmic terms
- Like the Milky Way, Andromeda is also a spiral galaxy
- It is estimated that in the next 4 billion years, he two galaxies will collide
- Despite the theorized collision, the galaxies are too large for any two stars to individually collide
The purpose of the X-ray imaging was to observe a number of X-ray binaries present in the Andromeda galaxy, in order to help the scientists better understand the role they play in the Universe’s evolution.
Scientists believe that these massive objects of energy played a very important role in the creation of the first galaxies, by heating the intergalactic gas bath from whence they originated.
X-ray binaries are very powerful sources of X-rays that are generated by a neutron star or a black hole feeding off another nearby star.
When dealing with an X-ray binary, one member is always a former star that at some point exploded. Depending on the size, mass, as well as a variety of other factors, the resulting object is either a black hole or a neutron star. These stars are usually a lot more massive than our sun.
Under certain circumstances, another star is close by to the original star, and material from it will spill out, and be dragged into the neutron star or the black hole by their immense gravitational pulls.
As the material is pulled into the black hole or neutron star, it is heated very powerfully by either the friction or the star’s temperature, and it releases huge amounts of X-rays. This is how X-ray binaries are formed.
The team of researchers is attempting to measure the differences in numbers and locations between neutron star and black hole X-ray binaries in order to make some progress in understanding how they work.
Ann Hornschemeier, the lead investigator in the research, talks about the researcher’s hope that the new study will reveal more about how the intergalactic gas was heated enough to create galaxies at the beginning of the Universe, as well as about how little was known up until now about the X-ray binaries.
Continuing to study the binaries and the extreme stellar populations in our sister galaxy, we may finally find out more about how the two galaxies came to be, and what lies in their future.