NASA’s New ‘Gamma’ Constellations Are Partly Made From Black Holes (And The TARDIS)

NASA’s New ‘Gamma’ Constellations Are Partly Made From Black Holes (And The TARDIS)
Image: NASA

You’d think with all the astronomical discoveries we’ve made over the years, we’d have plenty of stars to make new constellations from. Like, thousands of them. And in a way, we do. But why uses boring old stars, when you can use black holes instead?

To celebrate the hard work of the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, and the international team involved in the discoveries it has made since 2008, NASA has come up with an “unofficial set of … constellations”, made from all the gamma-ray bursts (GRB) the telescope has detected.

Rather than using animals or gods to demarcate the constellations, NASA’s drawing from modern pop culture instead. For example, here’s the TARDIS of Doctor Who fame.

And the USS Enterprise because, well, how could you not make up new constellations and not involve Star Trek somehow?

Image: NASA

Now, not all the GRBs are from black holes — specifically, super-massive ones at the centre of other galaxies — as NASA explains:

The individual points of gamma-ray light in Fermi constellations usually aren’t stars. About half of them are distant galaxies powered by monster black holes. These objects, called blazars, produce gamma-ray jets that happen to point in our direction.

Other sources include rapidly rotating neutron stars called pulsars, binary star systems containing neutron stars, the expanding clouds of exploded stars and normal galaxies like our own Milky Way.

Even more fascinating is that around 30 per cent of detections are “not recognised at any other wavelength”, which basically means we have no idea what they are:

An exciting possibility is that some of these unknown sources may contain new types of gamma-ray-emitting objects. Fermi has provided our best look yet at the gamma-ray sky, but its mission continues to delve deeper into the extreme cosmos.

Don’t quote me on this, but I’m guessing they’re not Doctor Who or Captain Kirk.

[NASA, via Syfy]