X-ray vision shows off a hidden side to the universe

NASA has released a 'NICER' view of the night sky
x-ray Each of the spots marked in green is a galaxy or pulsar that NASA is studying by observing X-rays. (NASA/Goddard)


When we think of X-ray vision, we think of being able to look through walls and even our own bodies to see what is inside. But not all X-rays are about looking through hard physical objects. Seeing them can reveal invisible worlds, too.

X-rays are a type of electromagnetic radiation. Generally speaking, they are invisible to the human eye. But if we could see them, they would be appear like beams, similar to the light waves that we do already see in space.

It's NICER up here

x-ray

An illustration of NICER on the ISS. (NASA/Wikimedia Commons)

One device that is able to see X-rays like this is NASA's Neutron star Interior Composition ExploreR, or NICER. This device is riding on the International Space Station (ISS). Whenever the ISS is out of sight of our Sun, NICER uses its sensors to read X-rays across the sky.

The image at the top of this page? That's two years worth of NICER's readings, all compressed into one image! To see it in high definition, click here.

Trails of radiation

The super bright areas labeled in green are the things that NICER is studying. Many of them are types of neutron stars called pulsars. Pulsars give off tremendous amounts of X-rays. Using this information, scientists can better understand the size and behaviour of these objects.

And to help you better understand what a pulsar is in the first place, check out this NASA video below. Pretty amazing stuff!


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