ESAs gamma-ray satellite, Integral, is fully operational. Today Integrals first ground-breaking images of the high-energy Universe were presented in Paris, France. Astronomers call such initial observations first-light images.
The high-energy Universe is a violent place of exploding stars and their collapsed remnants such as the ultra-compressed neutron stars and, at the most extreme, all-consuming black holes. These celestial objects create X-rays and gamma rays that are many times more powerful than the optical radiation we can see with our eyes and optical telescopes. Integrals Principal Investigators – the scientists responsible for the instruments on board - explain the crucial role that high-energy missions like Integral play in astronomy. “X-ray and gamma-ray astronomy is a pathfinder to unusual objects. At optical wavelengths, the number of stars is staggering. At X-ray and gamma-ray wavelengths, there are fewer objects, but the ones that remain are the really peculiar ones.”
As a first test, Integral observed the Cygnus region of the sky, looking particularly at that enigmatic object, Cygnus X-1. Since the 1960s, we have known this object to be a constant generator of high-energy radiation. Most scientists believe that Cygnus X-1 is the site of a black hole, containing around five times the mass of our Sun and devouring a nearby star. Observing Cygnus X-1, which is relatively close by in our own Galaxy - only 10 000 light years from us - is a very important step towards understanding black holes. This will also help understand the monstrous black hole - three million times the mass of our Sun - at the centre of our Galaxy.
Dr Arvind Parmar | alfa
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