NASA Telescopes Join Forces to Observe Unprecedented String of High-energy Outbursts
This mosaic image illustrates how NASA's Swift satellite, Hubble Space Telescope, and Chandra X-ray Observatory teamed up to study one of the most puzzling series of cosmic blasts ever observed.
On March 28, 2011, Swift's Burst Alert Telescope discovered the source of rapid gamma-ray and X-ray emissions flaring up in the direction of the constellation Draco. It was cataloged as GRB 110328A. (The orange starburst pattern is an artifact of Swift's imaging system.)
Hubble's high resolution was used to pinpoint the source of the explosions at the center of a dwarf galaxy, which lies 3.8 billion light-years away from Earth. These observations were made on April 4.
On April 4, a Chandra X-ray image located the X-ray source 10 times more precisely than Swift did. The data show that the source lies at the center of the galaxy Hubble imaged.
These combined data support the hypothesis that the extraordinary and unusual blasts likely arose when a star wandered too close to its galaxy's central black hole. Intense tidal forces tore the star apart, and the infalling gas continues to stream toward the hole. According to this model, the spinning black hole formed an outflowing jet along its rotational axis. A powerful blast of X-rays and gamma rays is seen when the jet is pointed in our direction.