Physics Faculty Awarded Observing Time on Two NASA X-Ray Observatories

Dr. Ka-Wah Wong, Assistant Professor of Physics, has been awarded roughly 11 hours of Chandra observing time and six hours of NuSTAR observing time.

Dr. Wong, Principal Investigator, and co-Investigators, Dr. Jimmy Irwin (University of Alabama), Dr. Dacheng Lin (Northeastern University), and Dr. Rodrigo Nemmen (University of São Paulo, Brazil), will be studying the famous M87 galaxy using both the Chandra and NuSTAR X-ray Observatories.

M87 is a “nearby” giant elliptical galaxy 50 million light years away. At its center sits a supermassive black hole 6 billion times more massive than our Sun. Dr. Wong’s team will focus on this center – the M87 active galactic nucleus (AGN).  AGNs are compact radiation regions at the centers of galaxies powered by the accretion of gas onto supermassive black holes. X-ray emission has been detected from the M87 AGN, but the origin of the emission is still under debate. It may result from hot gas accreting toward the supermassive black hole, from jets ejected during the accretion process, or from a combination of both.

Dr. Wong’s team detected – for the first time – higher energy X-rays emitted from the M87 AGN during a previous NuSTAR observation. Their work has already provided important insights into the jet and accretion physics, but additional data from the joint Chandra and NuSTAR observations are needed to draw a better conclusion on the nature of X-rays from the AGN. With the new observations, Dr. Wong’s team will continue their research and test new theoretical models.

Chandra is NASA’s flagship-class X-ray space telescope, while NuSTAR is NASA’s Small Explorer class satellite that focuses higher energy X-ray into images. Observing time on Chandra or NuSTAR is awarded after a highly competitive peer-reviewed process.  Funding will also be allocated to support the research program. Students working with Dr. Wong to analyze the X-ray data will be among the first to witness some of the most energetic phenomena in the universe, learning frontier science as they gain skills in statistical data analysis and computer coding.

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Posted: August 24, 2021