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Titan up close
Scientists reveal stunning pictures of Saturn's moon Titan and other results during this news conference from July 3. (38min 17sec file)
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Saturn ring pictures
Cassini's stunning close-up images of the rings around Saturn, taken just after the craft entered orbit Thursday morning, are presented with expert narration by Carolyn Porco, the mission imaging team leader. (8min 39sec file)
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Burn ignition!
Mission control erupts in applause as communications from Cassini confirm the orbit insertion burn has begun. (60sec file)
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Burn completed
Signals from Cassini announce the conclusion of the Saturn orbit insertion burn, confirming the spacecraft has arrived at the ringed planet. (2min 15sec file)
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Post-arrival briefing
Mission officials hold a post-orbit insertion burn news conference at 1 a.m. EDT July 1 to discuss Cassini's successful arrival at Saturn. (25min 27sec file)
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International cooperation
Officials from the U.S., European and Italian space agencies discuss the international cooperation in the Cassini mission and future exploration projects during this news conference from 2 p.m. EDT June 30. (19min 35sec file)
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'Ring-side' chat
This informal "ring-side chat" from 5 p.m. EDT June 30 discusses the Cassini mission to Saturn and the future of space exploration. (49min 20sec file)
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Chandra looks over a cosmic four-leaf clover
Posted: July 6, 2004

A careful analysis of observations by NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory of a rare quadruple quasar has uncovered evidence that possibly a single star in a foreground galaxy magnified X-rays coming from the quasar. This discovery gives astronomers a new and extremely precise probe of the gas flow around the supermassive black hole that powers the quasar.

This is Chandra's X-ray view of the so-called Cloverleaf quasar, a single object whose image has been reproduced four times through an effect known as "gravitational lensing." Credit: NASA/CXC/Penn State/G.Chartas et al
"If our interpretation is correct, then we are seeing details around this black hole that are 50,000 times smaller than either the Hubble Space Telescope or Chandra could see under ordinary circumstances," said George Chartas of Penn State University in University Park, and lead author of a recent article on the Cloverleaf quasar in The Astrophysical Journal.

The Cloverleaf quasar is a single object about 11 billion light years from Earth that appears as four images produced by a process known as gravitational lensing. If one or more galaxies lie along the line of sight to a more distant quasar, the gravitational field of the intervening galaxies can bend and magnify the light from the quasar and produce multiple images of it. The four images of the Cloverleaf quasar have been produced by one or more intervening galaxies.

One of the images (A), in the Cloverleaf is brighter than the others in both optical and X-ray light. Chartas and his colleagues found the relative brightness of this image was greater in X-ray than in optical light. The X-rays from iron atoms were also enhanced relative to X-rays at lower energies. Since the amount of brightening due to gravitational lensing does not vary with the wavelength, this means that an additional object has magnified the X-rays.

The increased magnification of the X-ray light can be explained by gravitational microlensing, an effect which has been used to search for compact stars and planets in our galaxy. Microlensing occurs when a star or a multiple star system passes in front of light from a background object.

X-ray: NASA/CXC/Penn State/G.Chartas et al; Illustration: NASA/CXC/M.Weiss
If a single star or a multiple star system in one of the foreground galaxies passed in front of the light path for the brightest image, then that image would be selectively magnified. The X-rays would be magnified much more than the visible light, if they came from a smaller region around the black hole than the visible light. The enhancement of the X-rays from iron ions would be due to this same effect.

The analysis indicates that the X-rays are coming from a very small region, about the size of the solar system, around the supermassive black hole. The visible light is coming from a region ten or more times larger. The angular size of these regions at a distance of 11 billion light years is tens of thousands times smaller than the smallest region that can be resolved by the Hubble Space Telescope.

"The significance of the detection of microlensed X-rays from the Cloverleaf quasar lies in the extremely small region that is enhanced by the microlens," said Chartas. "This gives us the ability to make strong tests of models for the flow of gas around a supermassive black hole."

Other team members include Michael Eracleous (Penn State), Eric Agol (University of Washington), and Sarah Gallagher (UCLA). NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala., manages the Chandra program for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington. Northrop Grumman of Redondo Beach, Calif., formerly TRW, Inc., was the prime development contractor for the observatory. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory controls science and flight operations from the Chandra X-ray Center in Cambridge, Mass.