NuSTAR observes previously unknown X-ray binaries in the nearby Andromeda galaxy

Image of the Andromeda galaxy, highlighting the relative position of the 40 newly-discovered X-ray binaries(Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/GSFC)

NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) observatory has discovered 40 previously unknown X-ray binaries in the nearby Andromeda galaxy (M31). Astronomers believe that these phenomena may have played a key part in heating up clouds of gas that existed in the aftermath of the Big Bang, aiding in the creation of the first galaxies.

X-ray binaries are made up of two bodies. One component is a former star, which, following its demise in a dramatic supernova, leaves a remanent in the form of either a neutron star, or a black hole.

This remnant is accompanied by a companion star. Material from the companion star occasionally overflows its influence and is caught in the gravitational pull of the remanent body. As this material is drawn farther in it becomes super-heated, and releases intense X-ray emissions.

M31 sits roughly 2.5 million light-years away, representing a reasonable facsimile to our own galaxy the Milky Way. By analyzing the phenomena in a nearby Milky Way-like environment, astronomers can form a greater understanding of X-ray binaries, and use these insights to create models for more distant galaxies that cannot be so easily observed.

Further scrutiny of the binaries may also highlight disparities in the process of star evolutionism M31 when compared to stellar bodies that developed in the Milky Way. Moving forward, the team hopes to identify which of the 40 newly-discovered X-ray binaries represent black holes feeding off stellar material, and which denote the presence of a neutron star.

Source: NASA

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