Late last month, NASA’s Swift and and Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) programs detected an X-ray flare from a super massive black hole in the constellation Pegasus, approximately 324 million light-years from Earth.
According to the announcement October 27th, the giant eruption of X-rays might be part of the black hole ejecting its corona. The corona of a black hole is made of extremely highly energetic particles which give off X-rays. Though scientists are currently unsure about how the corona of a black hole forms, the observations from Swift and NuSTAR lend insight in to the configuration of the corona, as well as a potential tie between the ejecting of the corona from the black hole and flares of X-rays seen originating from the black hole.
The new data supports the “lamppost” model for black hole coronas. The model suggests the corona is a compact source of light, similar to the filament in a light bulb. The filaments sit above and below the black hole along the axis of rotation of the black hole.
In 2007, the black hole, named Markarian 335, faded in intensity by a factor of 30, and researchers have been watching it since then. “What we have found is that it continues to erupt in flares but has not reached the brightness levels and stability seen before,” said Luigi Gallo, the principal investigator for the project at Saint Mary’s University.
In September 2014, Swift observed a large flare from Markarian 335. The NuSTAR program followed up on the flare as a part of a “Target of Opportunity” tasking program, where the previously planned schedule is preempted for important events. Eight days later, NuSTAR trained it’s X-ray sensors on Markarian 335 and detected the final half of the flare event.
NuSTAR is a Small Explorer mission led by Caltech and managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. NuSTAR was developed in partnership with the Danish Technical University and the Italian Space Agency (ASI). The spacecraft was built by Orbital Sciences Corp., Dulles, Virginia. NuSTAR’s mission operations center is at UC Berkeley, and the official data archive is at NASA’s High Energy Astrophysics Science Archive Research Center. ASI provides the mission’s ground station and a mirror archive. JPL is managed by Caltech for NASA.