Debasmita Banerjee
Debasmita Banerjee
25 Sep 2016

NASA's Sounding Rocket Shed Much Needed Light On The Origin Of X-Rays

The mystical universe has always embraced human’s inquisitive nature yet due to the limited technology and scope they never could unwind the complexity associated with it. It is already known to the scientific community that our space is filled with cosmic radiation. Cause? It has been partially proved and researched that stars, galaxies, and other celestial bodies were responsible for this enormous amount of EM radiation. However, to be very specific, the source of X-ray was hidden inside the blurry hypothesis for many years. And to pull up the curtain, space research giant NASA sent DXL (Diffuse X-ray emission from the Local galaxy) sounding rocket to study the origin of X-rays in the universe from New Mexico in the year 2012.

The newly published report on 23rd September 2016 shows that the scientists were able to locate the sources with certainty. Before we further explore what NASA had to say about the results, let’s explore how NASA has accumulated the data. Named after nautical term "to sound” meaning “to take measurements”, sounding rockets have been proved instrumental in collecting data in several projects including the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory (CGRO) and TRACE satellite which relied on sounding rockets findings.

NASA-Funded Sounding Rocket Through The Sun’s Helium Focussing Cone

According to the official source, on one side DXL’s data nourished the already known idea of an early solar neighborhood but on the other side, it revealed that an entire group of X-rays doesn't belong to any known source. The known sources include the solar wind, the sea of solar materials and a speculated hot area consisting of interstellar material revolving around the sun. But some high-energy X-rays still remained orphan as scientifically, in higher energies the upper-mentioned sources provide less than a quarter of the X-ray emission, as per the lead author Youaraj Uprety, an astrophysicist at the University of Miami at the time of the research.

Since the discovery of X-rays in space, three different theories originated to prove the reason of its existence. The first irrelevant one said, these must be a background noise coming from distant universes but failed to be proven as the neutral gas of our own system would simply devour it. Then the second theory highlighted these must have a localized source and later it was disclosed that Sun has an envelope made of hot ionized gas (no one completely knows how it was created). With high energy electrons, the envelope could generate X-rays and thus it was named as Local Hot Bubble.

The theory was alive for many years until 1990 when researchers found another possible source of X-ray called as solar wind charge exchange. The sun constantly releases solar material poly-directionally and these ionized gasses having separate electrons and ions are known to be solar wind. It was realized that if this wind interacts with neutral gasses having tightly bound electron-ions might energize the electrons and as they form a stable structure they release energy in the form X-rays.

Scientifically it had a very high chance of acceptance but then the previous theory of Local Hot Bubble could not have its chance. How to validate their importance? Or do they have a mutual sharing? To prove the contribution and distinguish between two different X-rays based on their sources, DXLs were made. In 15 minutes it can collect the data worth taking a decision on a theory.

From the revealed data it was announced that 40% of the X-rays come from the solar wind but some high-energy X-rays could not be categorized. They do not evolve from the Hot Local Bubble either. At the end, although one source was fully understood but it left a larger room for another mystery to be solved. The research has been published at Astrophysical Journal.

Watch How NASA's Sounding Rocket Helped To Solve One Of The Mysteries

Source: NASA

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