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On Station II

June 25, 2013

The supermassive black hole at the center of a nearby galaxy recently had a little snack — either a large planet or a brown dwarf. The black hole’s gravity ripped the object to shreds, then pulled the material into a glowing disk around the black hole before finally ingesting it.

International Space Station in orbit, with the Moon in the backgroundInternational Space Station in orbit, with the Moon in the backgroundThese fireworks produced a bright outburst of X-rays. They were monitored by several space telescopes, including one aboard the International Space Station.

MAXI is one of three major astronomical instruments aboard the station. Another is helping in the search for dark matter; more about that tomorrow. And the third is measuring tiny changes in the energy output of the Sun.

MAXI is a Japanese experiment that monitors X-rays across the entire sky. Among other things, its observations helped astronomers decipher a system in which a tiny star is orbiting a small black hole once every couple of hours.

The Sun-watching telescope is known as SOLAR. The European telescope monitors the Sun at almost all wavelengths of light — from those that are visible to the eye to those that are far beyond the eye’s range.

Although the Sun is quite stable, it goes through a long cycle of magnetic activity that causes its total energy output to vary by about a tenth of a percent. That tiny change could have an impact on Earth’s atmosphere and climate. The SOLAR observations will help scientists correlate those changes, while revealing new details about the Sun itself.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2013

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