The points of purple light in the image above are bright X-ray emissions, blazing from super-hot gas swirling within binary star systems in M51, the Whirlpool Galaxy. Over 232 hours of observation time with NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory have revealed hundreds of these X-ray binaries (XRBs) within M51 - the brightest of them being created by hungry black holes.
BIG PIC: Falling Into the Guts of a Black Hole
When matter spirals around a massive black hole, rapidly falling in toward its event horizon, it gets accelerated to near-relativistic velocities (that's how astrophysicists say "close to the speed of light") and gets so incredibly hot that it emits radiation in X-ray wavelengths, visible across vast distances of the Cosmos.
In XRBs, a super-dense supermassive object like a black hole or neutron star is partnered with a less massive star, from which it draws in material. This convenient and energetic source of food fuels the XRBs, making them exceptionally X-ray bright.
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