The Dirt on Cosmic Dust: An X-ray Perspective through Black Hole and Neutron Star Eyes

Julia Lee


Cosmic dust and molecules play a major role in the chemical evolution of astrophysical bodies (stars, planets, organics), and the energy balance of the Universe. Directly, and indirectly, their effects are felt in many aspects of astrophysics research from nucleosynthesis to cosmology, while their physics and chemistry play an important role in the formation of organic compounds vital to the development of life. I will discuss how the combination of experimental programs at synchrotron beam-lines and high spectral resolution X-ray studies of compact objects (e.g. black holes and neutron stars), can be used as a powerful new tool for revealing new information about cosmic dust, including how X-rays may be key to revealing a thus far missing population of grains. Using a Galactic BH as the primary example, I will show how X-ray absorption studies reveal the element-specific quantity and composition of dust, implications for formation scenarios based on the dust found, and how this information can then be combined with X-ray (imaging) scattering halo studies to determine high precision distances, in one case, comparable to parallax measurements. Time permitting, I will end with a brief overview of our space and laboratory goals for addressing astrophysics problems.