This X-Ray View of The Night Sky Reveals a Whole New Way of Seeing The Universe

 Based on this newly released snapshot of the night sky captured by NASA's Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER), we can safely assume Superman gets no sleep at night. 

 Just look at this amazing image. 

             Credits: NASA/NICER

The sparkling dots and twisted loops are the result of nearly two years of effort to study cosmic sources of X-rays from Earth's orbit. 

As a piece of art, it's amazing. Check it out in all its glory below, complete with details identifying the relevant spots, or in high detail here on NASA's Goddard Media Page.



To fully appreciate its beauty, though, let's break down what these stunning fireworks display actually describes. 

On board the International Space Station (ISS) sets the workhorse of the NICER payload – a washing-machine sized cube called an X-ray Timing Instrument. 


Approximately every hour and a half, after the Sun sets on the ISS orbit, the instrument scoops up high energy photons from up to eight locations per orbit in the night sky. 

Every curved line is the path traced as the instrument's attention shifts from one source to the next source. The smaller spots and lines are energetic particles crashing into the sensors. 

But the larger 'Sparkles' are of particular interest, their brightness the result of both the amount of time NICER spends focused on that spot and their plenteous outpouring of X-ray radiation. 

Many of the locations are home for dead suns called neutron stars; objects so dense, the only thing keeping them from colliding into a black hole is a law that says their nuclei can't all stack into the same volume. Not withougreatly more force, at least. 

A big problem is, we're still not entirely sure how that works, as the exact largeness of neutron stars aren't clear. 

Knowing their exact radius can tell us more about the crazy physics going on inside their bodies. Its anticipated that this mission could determine their size to within a precision of just 5 percent. 

Some of those neutron stars are very quick spinners called pulsars. Nailing down the time of each sweep of their lighthouse-like X-ray beams can give astronomers with a highly detailed set of coordinates. 

An enhance to NICER called the Station Explorer for X-ray Timing and Navigation Technology (SEXTANT) experiment will provide information that should not only help guide the future of the mission, but put up to future space exploration as a whole. 


It might look complex, but there's a lot of information in that bowl of cosmic spaghetti and meatballs. 

"Even with minimum processing, this image divulges the Cygnus Loop, a supernova remnant about 90 light-years across and thought to be 5,000 to 8,000 years old," says Principal Investigator Keith Gendreau from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. 

Even if none of that impresses you, at least you can glance at it and visualize you're an astronomer with X-ray vision - casually star-gazing on Krypton.

Reference(s) : NASA

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