Skip to main content

Black hole bends light, space, time -- and NASA's NuSTAR can see it all unfold

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NASA's NuSTAR searches the galaxy looking for black holes
  • The black hole known as Markarian 335 is capturing and bending nearby X-ray light
  • The event is literally shedding light on how Einstein's theory of relativity works in extremes

(CNN) -- NASA's black-hole hunting telescope has captured a cosmic battle between dark and light.

NuSTAR, formally known as the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, has observed a supermassive black hole's gravity tugging on X-ray light that's being emitted near that black hole.

NASA says \
NASA says "The regions around supermassive black holes shine brightly in X-rays. Some of this radiation comes from a surrounding disk, and most comes from the corona, pictured here as the white light at the base of a jet. This is one possible configuration for a corona -- its actual shape is unclear."
The mystery of black holes
Black hole hunting satellite launched
New telescope to illuminate black holes

That light is getting stretched and blurred, and researchers are getting to see it all in unprecedented detail, said NASA in a news release issued today.

In this instance, the corona -- a source of X-ray light that sits near a black hole -- recently collapsed in toward the black hole that's named Markarian 335.

The NuSTAR telescope has been collecting X-rays from black holes and dying stars for the past two years.

The craft completed its primary mission earlier this year, and it was redirected to investigate Markarian 335 once scientists noticed that the black hole had become dramatically brighter. NuSTAR observed that Markarian 335's gravity sucked the corona's light, an illuminating action that NASA likened to someone shining a flashlight for astronomers.

Scientists can now see the corona "lighting up material around the black hole," which allows them to study "the most extreme light-bending effects" of Albert Einstein's theory of general relativity, said NuSTAR's principal investigator, Fiona Harrison, in the news release. She is with the California Institute of Technology.

As if NuSTAR's observations and Einstein's theories aren't mind-boggling enough, NASA says the black hole Markarian 335 "spins so rapidly that space and time are dragged around with it."

The space agency says the new observations could help scientists better understand mysterious coronas and black holes, which are thought to be formed when massive stars collapse, creating such density that not even light can escape their intense gravitational pull.

Scientists believe supermassive black holes reside in the centers of galaxies. Some are more massive and rotate faster than others.

Part of complete coverage on
Space
updated 5:20 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Scientists believe that a hot gas bubble was formed by multiple supernovas.
updated 11:47 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robonaut is the next generation dexterous robot
Life aboard the International Space Station.
updated 9:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
NASA's New Horizons mission hurtles toward Pluto in historic 3 billion mile expedition.
updated 4:44 PM EDT, Wed August 6, 2014
Rosetta spacecraft arrives at its destination, Comet 67P after a 10-year journey around the solar system.
After a 10-year chase the Rosetta spacecraft is now orbiting a comet
updated 4:16 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
"Here comes the sun" indeed, and it was just barely all right.
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Seems NASA's fascination with the moon is in the past. It's focused on something far more menacing: incoming asteroids
updated 11:56 PM EDT, Mon July 14, 2014
Scientists looking for signs of life in the universe -- as well as another planet like our own -- are a lot closer to their goal than people realize.
updated 3:39 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
The U.S. Army brainchild "Project Horizon" was born. Its proposal to leap beyond the Soviets opened with the line: "There is a requirement for a manned military outpost on the moon."
updated 3:36 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Back in July 1969, I stood on the talcum-like lunar dust just a few feet from our home away from home, Eagle, the lunar module that transported Neil Armstrong and me to the bleak, crater-pocked moonscape.
updated 3:43 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
solar flare july 2014
From Earth, the sun appears as a constant circle of light, but when viewed in space a brilliant display of motion is revealed.
updated 1:31 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
The full moons of this summer -- July 12, August 10 and September 9 -- are supermoons, as NASA calls them.
updated 11:51 AM EDT, Sun June 29, 2014
If you think you saw a flying saucer over Hawaii, you might not be crazy -- except what you saw didn't come from outer space, though that may be its ultimate destination.
updated 9:47 PM EDT, Thu June 26, 2014
The U.S. space shuttle program retired in 2011, leaving American astronauts to hitchhike into orbit. But after three long years, NASA's successor is almost ready to make an entrance.
updated 10:21 AM EDT, Fri June 13, 2014
When I first poked my head inside Virgin Galactic's newest spaceship, I felt a little like I was getting a front-row seat to space history.
updated 7:03 PM EDT, Tue June 10, 2014
The sun is putting on a fireworks show again.
updated 7:02 PM EDT, Tue June 24, 2014
A year is a very long time on Mars -- 687 days. NASA's Curiosity rover can attest that it's enough time for some unexpected life changes.
updated 2:00 PM EDT, Fri May 2, 2014
At least one corner of the solar system may be serving up an ice-and-water sandwich, with the possibility of life on the rocks.
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Tue April 8, 2014
You can't see it happening on Earth, but space itself is stretching. Ever since the Big Bang happened 13.8 billion years ago, the universe has been getting bigger.
updated 7:59 AM EST, Fri February 28, 2014
Our galactic neighborhood just got a lot bigger. NASA announced the discovery of 715 new planets.
updated 10:37 AM EDT, Tue March 18, 2014
Scientists have made a breakthrough in understanding how our world as we know it came to be.
updated 3:27 PM EST, Tue February 25, 2014
From a sheep ranch in Western Australia comes the oldest slice of Earth we know.
ADVERTISEMENT