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X-ray map finds universe teeming with black holes

Chandra snaps the deepest X-ray exposure ever, located in the
Chandra snaps the deepest X-ray exposure ever, located in the Southern Hemisphere skies. The blues, yellows and reds depict X-ray intensities from highest to lowest energy  

March 13, 2001
Web posted at: 3:29 p.m. EST (2029 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The most thorough X-ray survey ever taken of the universe shows an abundance of active super-massive black holes, two independent teams of astronomers said Tuesday.

NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory provided pictures that contain the faintest X-ray sources ever detected, leading some astronomers to believe that black holes of all sizes once ruled the universe.

"The Chandra data show us that giant black holes were much more active in the past than at present," said Riccardo Giacconi of Johns Hopkins University.

The images, known as the Chandra Deep Fields, were obtained during many long exposures over the course of more than a year.

"For me, this observation represents a fulfillment of a dream that I've been working on since the 60's," said Giacconi.


The most powerful X-ray space telescope ever, Chandra allows astronomers to see galaxies and black holes billions of light-years in the distance, giving them a glimpse into regions of the universe as they existed eons ago.

"In essence, it is like seeing galaxies similar to our own Milky Way at much earlier times in their lives," said Ann Hornschemeier of Pennsylvania State University.

"These data will help scientists better understand star formation and how stellar-sized black holes evolve," she said.

Scientists announced another Chandra discovery on Tuesday: the detection of an X-ray quasar 12 billion light-years away. Shrouded in gas and dust, the object could provide clues about how gas clouds formed into galaxies, the researchers said.

Launched in July 1999, Chandra orbits the Earth 200 times higher than the Hubble space telescope, more than 1/3 of the way to the moon. It was named to honor the late Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, a Nobel Prize winning astrophysicist.

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The Chandra X-ray Observatory Center
Space Telescope Science Institute

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