Beaming with the light of millions of suns

In the 1980s, researchers began discovering extremely bright sources of X-rays in the outer portions of galaxies, away from the supermassive black holes that dominate their centers. At first, researchers thought these cosmic objects, called ultraluminous X-ray sources, or ULXs, were hefty black holes with more than ten times the mass of the sun. But observations beginning in 2014 from NASA’s NuSTAR and other space telescopes are showing that some ULXs, which glow with X-ray light equal in energy to millions of suns, are actually neutron stars—the burnt-out cores of massive stars that exploded. Three such ULXs have been identified as neutron stars so far.

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