Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.
2000 January 21
Explanation: A big beautiful spiral galaxy 2 million light-years away, Andromeda (M31) has long been touted as an analogue to the Milky Way, a distant mirror of our own galaxy. The popular 1960s British sci-fi series, A For Andromeda, even postulated that it was home to another technological civilization that communicated with us. Using the newly unleashed observing power of the orbiting Chandra X-ray telescope, astronomers have now imaged the centre of our near-twin island universe, finding evidence for an object so bizarre it would have impressed many 60s science fiction writers (and readers). Like the Milky Way, Andromeda's galactic centre appears to harbour an X-ray source characteristic of a black hole of a million or more solar masses. Seen above, the false-colour X-ray picture shows a number of X-ray sources, likely X-ray binary stars, within Andromeda's central region as yellowish dots. The blue source located right at the galaxy's centre is coincident with the position of the suspected massive black hole. While the X-rays are produced as material falls into the black hole and heats up, estimates from the X-ray data show Andromeda's central source to be surprisingly cool - only a million degrees or so compared to the tens of millions of degrees indicated for Andromeda's X-ray binaries.
Authors & editors:
Jerry Bonnell (USRA)
NASA Technical Rep.: Jay Norris. Specific rights apply.
A service of: LHEA at NASA/ GSFC
& Michigan Tech. U.