Andromeda Galaxy's X-Ray Sources are Created by Neutron Stars and Black Holes

First Posted: Jan 06, 2016 09:34 AM EST

NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) has captured the Andromeda galaxy in a new, high-energy X-ray view. The new images could reveal a bit more about the galaxy and the intense sources of X-rays within it.

"Andromeda is the only large spiral galaxy where we can see individual X-ray binaries and study them in detail in an environment like our own," said Daniel Wik of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, in a news release. "We can then use this information to deduce what's going on in more distant galaxies, which are harder to see."

Andromeda, also known as M31, can be thought of as the big sister to our own Milky Way galaxy. Both galaxies are spiral in shape, but Andromeda is slightly larger than the Milky Way in size. It's relatively near in cosmic terms and can actually be seen by the naked eye in dark, clear nights.

In this latest view of Andromeda, the researchers observed 40 X-ray binaries, which are intense sources of X-rays comprised of a black hole or neutron star that feeds off a stellar companion. In X-ray binaries, one member of the binary is always a dead star or remnant formed form the explosion of what was once a star more massive than the sun. Depending on the mass and other properties of the original star, the explosion may produce either a black hole or a neutron star.

Now, researchers are learning a bit more about these binaries thanks to NuSTAR.

"We have come to realize in the past few years that it is likely the lower-mass remnants of normal stellar evolution, the black holes and neutron stars, may play a crucial role in heating of the intergalactic gas at very early times in the universe, around the cosmic dawn," said Ann Hornschemeier, one of the researchers. "Observations of local populations of stellar-mass-sized black holes and neutron stars with NuSTAR allow us to figure out just how much power is coming out from these systems."

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