This X-Ray View of The Night Sky Reveals a Whole New Way of Seeing The Universe

Based on this recently released snapshot of the night sky captured by NASA’s Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER), we can safely assume Superman gets no sleep at night. Just look at that thing.

The sparkling dots and tangled loops are the result of nearly two years of effort to study cosmic sources of X-rays from Earth’s orbit.

As a piece of art, it’s stunning. Check it out in all its glory below, complete with details identifying the relevant spots, or in high detail here on NASA’s Goddard media page.

To fully appreciate its beauty, though, let’s break down what this golden fireworks display actually describes.

On board the International Space Station (ISS) sits the workhorse of the NICER payload – a washing-machine sized cube called an X-ray Timing Instrument.

Roughly every hour and a half, after the Sun sets on the ISS orbit, the instrument scoops up high energy photons from up to eight locations per orbit in the night sky.

Every curved line is the path traced as the instrument’s attention shifts from one source to the next. The smaller flecks and lines are energetic particles crashing into the sensors.

But the bigger ‘sparkles’ are of particular interest, their brightness the result of both the amount of time NICER spends focussed on that spot and their generous outpouring of X-ray radiation.

Many of the locations are home to dead suns called neutron stars; objects so dense, the only thing keeping them from collapsing into a black hole is a law that says their nuclei can’t all pile into the same volume. Not without considerably more force, at least.

The problem is, we’re still not entirely sure how that works, as the exact sizes of neutron stars aren’t clear.

Knowing their precise radius can tell us more about the crazy physics going on inside their bodies. It’s hoped this mission could determine their size to within a precision of just 5 percent.

Some of those neutron stars are quick spinners called pulsars. Nailing down the time of each sweep of their lighthouse-like X-ray beams can provide astronomers with a highly detailed set of coordinates.

An upgrade to NICER called the Station Explorer for X-ray Timing and Navigation Technology (SEXTANT) experiment will collect information that should not only help guide the future of the mission, but contribute to future space exploration as a whole.

It might look messy, but there’s a lot of information in that bowl of cosmic spaghetti and meatballs.

“Even with minimal processing, this image reveals the Cygnus Loop, a supernova remnant about 90 light-years across and thought to be 5,000 to 8,000 years old,” says principal investigator Keith Gendreau from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

“We’re gradually building up a new X-ray image of the whole sky, and it’s possible NICER’s night time sweeps will uncover previously unknown sources.”

Even if none of that impresses you, at least you can look at it and imagine you’re an astronomer with X-ray vision – casually star-gazing on Krypton.

Related Posts

Astronomers Spot Radio Emission Coming From Planet in the Boötes Constellation

Astronomers believe they have intercepted what could be the first radio emission coming from a planet beyond our solar system. In Brief: A group of astronomers exploring…

Asteroid shock: NASA prepares for the ‘Giant God of Chaos’ rock to arrive in 2029

NASA has begun preparations for the upcoming ‘God of Chaos’ asteroid Apophis, considered potentially hazardous to Earth as it passes too close to the planet. NASA has…

Astronomers just found 20 NEW Moons orbiting an Alien-World in our Solar System

Astronomers have discovered 20 new moons around Saturn, bringing the total to 82. This outnumbers Jupiter, which previously held the record with 79 moons. One of the…

Sun is Older Than The Earth But The Water You Drink is Older Than The Sun

Remember that some of the molecules in your “fresh” sip of water are actually billions of years old—far older than the solar system itself. It looks doubtful…

NASA just released 4K video tour of Earth’s moon that will make you drop your jaw

NASA just released a 4K video tour of Earth’s moon that will make you drop your jaw. NASA just released a 4k video that will make you…

Watery Earth-Like Planets Are Common Around Red-Dwarf Stars

Scientists have concluded that water, Earth-like planets are very common around Red Dwarf stars, some of the most populous suns in the galaxy. The universe we inhabit…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *