Some of the greatest advantages to using STIS arein the study of supermassive black holes, cosmology, solarflares and the distribution of matter in the universe.
• Massive Black Holes
. These exotic objects are somassive, and their gravitational forces so strong, thatnothing—not even light—can escape. To verify whetheran object truly classifies as a massive black hole, astrono-mers need to determine how quickly stars and other de-bris orbit around the center of these objects. These mea-surements, which need to be taken at 10 different adja-•
. Flares are powerful explosions onthe surfaces of many stars. When our own Sun flares,the episodes frequently disrupt communications, createpower line surges and threaten space travelers. Astrono-mers don’t understand the physics behind such violenteruptions, but by studying the events on other stars, theywill begin to unlock some of their physical secrets.•
Evolution of the universe.
By taking spectralmeasurements of deuterium (heavy hydrogen) and ordi-nary hydrogen in intergalactic clouds of gas, astrono-mers will be able to
determine how the ratio of abun-dances of deuterium to ordinary hydrogen has changedfrom the time of the big bang to the present. This in-formation indicates how much mass the universe con-tains. Knowing the mass of the universe will help as-tronomers determine whether the universe will continueto expand forever or will ultimately stop expanding andbegin to collapse.•
Distribution of Matter.
Emitting the energy of more than a trillion Suns, quasars can be used to probethe universe. As their light streams toward Earth, the ra-diation encounters intergalactic clouds and other matter.These encounters show up in the spectral lines, givingastronomers an idea of what exists in the vast expense of space separating us from the very distant quasar.
NICMOS and the Infrared
NICMOS, developed by University of Arizona Pro-fessor Rodger Thompson and a 16-member science team,will see the universe at near infrared wavelengths moresensitively and in sharper detail than any other existingor planned telescope. It, too, takes “photographs” andspectroscopic measurements.Infrared light, which falls between visible and ra-dio waves on the electromagnetic spectrum, isn’t ab-sorbed like visual light by the clouds of dust found abun-dantly in the universe. Although infrared radiation can
Supermassive Black Holes and Other Space Exotica
cent locations within a relatively small area, help deter-mine how much mass is concentrated in the center. If there is more mass than can be accounted for by starsalone, the mass must be locked away in something verycompact—a black hole. Given STIS’s dramatically en-hanced data-gathering capabilities, scientists will be ablenot only to locate supermassive black holes, but begin todiscern differences in their characteristics.
Black hole detection took multiple observations withcurrent instrument.New instrument can samplethe area suspected of harboring a black hole in asingle observation
will allow astronomers to measure very efficiently howrapidly stars and gas are moving around the center of agalaxy, making STIS the world’s most powerful black-hole hunter.STIS affords astronomers the opportunity to gathermore data in less time. It will enable many newscientific discoveries that were hopeless to pursuebecause the process was so time consuming.
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