After a brief hiatus, BunsenBwog is back, bringing you the best science happenings at Columbia. This week, Bwog’s resident stargazer Zach Kagan discovers that when you stare into a black hole, it stares back into you.
While Columbians have been bogged down with hurricanes, blizzards and midterms, NASA’s plucky NuSTAR X-ray telescope has been enjoying clear skies in orbit 550 km above Earth’s surface. BunsenBwog has been keeping close tabs on NuSTAR because A) it’s awesome and B) Columbia Engineers are responsible for the device that allows the telescope to focus and amplify X-rays as they are collected. Now NuSTAR has been directed at the center of our galaxy, to observe the massive black hole in the center of the Milky Way. To be more accurate, it’s aimed at Sagittarius A*, a very compact radio-source that is thought to be a black hole.
However, Sgr A* doesn’t act like black holes in neighboring galaxies, which have a habit of gobbling up whatever star or gas cloud passes too close to their event horizon. That cosmic consumption results in temperatures of over 100,000 million degrees Celsius and massive emissions of radiation, but scientists haven’t seen the same behavior from Sgr A*. Then again, there’s been no way to directly measure the X-rays created during such events, until now. NuSTAR is already collecting X-ray data from Sgr A* which will allow astrophysicists to learn more about the eating habits of black holes. According to Columbia’s Professor Chuck Hailey, “astronomers have long speculated that the black hole’s snacking should produce copious hard X-rays, but NuSTAR is the first telescope with sufficient sensitivity to actually detect them.” Your sleeping and smoking habits after the jump