Associate Professor David Ballantyne is on the science team for NuSTAR, a telescope that NASA launched in June 2012. Ballantyne helped plan the mission, which looks at black holes in ways never seen before. NASA has now released some of the instrument's newest findings. NuSTAR has watched a black hole's gravity pull X-ray light, stretching and blurring that light. Black hole experts like Ballantyne have observed this phenomenon before, but never in so much detail.
For more than three decades, we have known that growing supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies produce X-rays. Yet, how these X-rays are actually produced is still a mystery. It seems the X-rays are generated in a 'corona' (analogous to the solar corona that can be seen during a solar eclipse), but figuring out even the basic details of these black hole coronae, such as its size, has been a major challenge. Now, NuSTAR, NASA's newest X-ray telescope, with its high sensitivity to a wide range of X-ray energies, is finally able to measure the details of black hole coronae. These measurements will allow astrophysicists to understand the engines that power some of the most energetic regions in the entire Universe.
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