A Quick Look at GSN 069
Astronomers found X-ray bursts repeating about every nine hours coming from the supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy GSN 069.
By combining data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and ESA's XMM-Newton, researchers watched this black hole for a span of almost two months.
Over that time, they saw the X-ray output from the black hole rise and fall in a repeating pattern.
This is evidence that the black hole is consuming a large amount of material — 4 times that of the Moon — about every 9 hours.
Regular "eating" has been seen in stellar-mass black holes, but never in their much larger supermassive black hole cousins.
This system gives astronomers a chance to study how hot gas flows around a giant black hole and is ultimately consumed.
A Tour of GSN 069
There's an adage that it's not healthy to skip meals. Apparently, a supermassive black hole in the center of a galaxy millions of light years away has gotten the message.
A team of astronomers found X-ray bursts repeating about every nine hours originating from the center of a galaxy called GSN 069. Obtained with NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton, these data indicate that the supermassive black hole located there is consuming large amounts of material on a regular schedule.
While scientists had previously found two "stellar-mass" black holes (those that weigh about 10 times the Sun's mass) occasionally undergoing regular outbursts before, this behavior has never been detected from a supermassive black hole until now.
The black hole at the center of GSN 069, located 250 million light years from Earth, contains about 400,000 times the mass of the Sun. The researchers estimate that the black hole is consuming about four Moons' worth of material about three times a day. That's equivalent to almost a million billion billion pounds going into the black hole per feeding.
ESA's XMM-Newton was the first to observe this phenomenon in GSN 069 with the detection of two bursts on December 24, 2018. Astronomers then followed up with more XMM-Newton observations on January 16 and 17, 2019, and found five outbursts. Observations by Chandra less than a month later, on February 14 and 15, revealed an additional three outbursts.
The Chandra data were crucial for this study because they were able to show that the X-ray source is located in the center of the host galaxy, which is where a supermassive black hole is expected to be. The combination of data from Chandra and XMM-Newton implies that the size and duration of the black hole's meals have decreased slightly, and the gap between the meals has increased. Astronomers are planning future observations that will be crucial to see if the trend continues.
A Tour of the Latest Look at "First Light" from Chandra
Over its two decades in space, NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory has captured many spectacular images of cosmic phenomena. But perhaps its most iconic is the supernova remnant called Cassiopeia A.
Located about 11,000 light years from Earth, Cas A (as it's nicknamed) is the glowing debris field left behind after a massive star exploded. When the star ran out of fuel, it collapsed onto itself and rebounded explosively as a supernova, possibly briefly becoming one of the brightest objects in the sky.
The shock waves generated by this blast supercharged the stellar wreckage and its environment making it glow brightly in many types of light, particularly X-rays. Shortly after Chandra was launched aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia on July 23, 1999, astronomers directed the observatory to point toward Cas A. The result was a seminal moment for the observatory and the field of X-ray astronomy with the release of Chandra's "First Light" image on August 26, 1999.
Since then, Chandra has repeatedly returned to Cas A to learn more about this important object. A new movie shows the evolution of Cas A over time, enabling viewers to watch as 10-million-degree-Celsius gas in the remnant expands outward. These X-ray data have been combined with data from another of NASA's "Great Observatories," the Hubble Space Telescope, showing delicate filamentary structures of cooler gases with temperatures of about 10,000 degrees Celsius. In this movie, we see Hubble data from a single time period to emphasize the changes in the Chandra data.
The movie shows Chandra observations from 2000 to 2013, or about the time it takes for a child to enter kindergarten and then graduate from high school. This gives astronomers a rare chance to watch as a cosmic object changes on human timescales, giving them new insight into the physics involved. For example, particles in the blue outer shock wave carry more energy than those produced by the most powerful particle accelerators on Earth. As this blast wave hits material in its path it slows down, sending a shock wave backwards at speeds of millions of miles per hour.
Chandra will continue to observe Cassiopeia A in the future, adding to its remarkable legacy of discovery for this supernova remnant.
Chandra X-ray Observatory
On July 23, 1999, the Space Shuttle Columbia blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center carrying the Chandra X-ray Observatory. In the two decades that have passed, Chandra's powerful and unique X-ray eyes have contributed to a revolution in our understanding of the cosmos. To commemorate Chandra's 20th anniversary of science operations, a collection of new images representing the breadth of Chandra's exploration was released. These images demonstrate the variety of objects Chandra studies as well as how X-rays complement the data collected in other types of light. Chandra is one of NASA's 'Great Observatories' along with the Hubble Space Telescope, Spitzer Space Telescope, and Compton Gamma Ray Observatory. It has the sharpest vision of any X-ray telescope ever built. Chandra is often used in conjunction with telescopes like Hubble and Spitzer that observe in different parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, and with other high-energy missions like XMM-Newton and NASA's NuSTAR. Chandra's discoveries have impacted virtually every aspect of astrophysics. For example, Chandra was involved in a direct proof of dark matter's existence. It has witnessed powerful eruptions from supermassive black holes. Astronomers have also used Chandra to map how the elements essential to life are spread from supernova explosions. Many of the phenomena Chandra now investigates were not even known when the telescope was being developed and built after first being proposed to NASA in 1976. For example, astronomers now use Chandra to study the effects of dark energy, test the impact of stellar radiation on exoplanets, and observe the outcomes of gravitational wave events. The Chandra X-ray Observatory was named in honour of the late Nobel laureate Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar. NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center manages the Chandra program. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory's Chandra X-ray Center controls science and flight operations from Cambridge, Mass. In 2018, NASA awarded a contract extension to continue operation and science support of Chandra through 2024, with the possibility of two three-year options.
NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory 20th Anniversary. What have we learnt so far?
This week marks the 20th launch anniversary of NASA's Chandra Space telescope, an observatory that is still observing the X-ray high energy Universe. In this week's video, I talk about what Chandra is and its legacy and science highlights so far.
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NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory 20th Anniversary. What have we learnt so far?
This week marks the 20th launch anniversary of NASA's Chandra Space telescope, an observatory that is still observing the X-ray high energy Universe. In this week's video, I talk about what Chandra is and its legacy and science highlights so far.
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A Tour of the Fornax Cluster
Scientists have found evidence that pairs of stars have been kicked out of their host galaxies. This discovery, made using data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, is one of the clearest examples of stellar pairs being expelled from their galactic base.
Astronomers use the term “binary” system to refer to pairs of stars orbiting around each other. These stellar pairs can consist of combinations of stars like our Sun, or more exotic and denser varieties such as neutron stars or even black holes.
Neutron stars form when a massive star explodes as a supernova and the core of the star collapses onto itself. Under certain conditions, these gargantuan blasts that create the neutron star are not symmetric. The recoil effect can kick the star with such force that it is expelled from the galaxy where it resides. These new Chandra results show that sometimes a companion star is forced to exit the galaxy as well.
How do astronomers look for these banished pairs? If the companion star is close enough, then matter from it will swirl toward the denser neutron star and form a disk around the neutron star. The strong gravitational forces from the neutron star cause the material in this disk to move more rapidly as it approaches the neutron star, and frictional forces in the disk heat the gaseous disk to tens of millions of degrees. At these temperatures, the disk glows in X-ray light.
Astronomers found signatures of X-ray binaries – that is, those binaries that give off X-rays -- outside of galaxies in the Fornax galaxy cluster. They did this by studying about 15 days’ worth of Chandra data taken between 1999 and 2015. The Fornax cluster is relatively nearby at a distance of some 60 million light years from Earth in the constellation sharing its name.
By combining the large Chandra dataset with optical observations, researchers made a census of X-ray sources within about 600,000 light years of the central galaxy in the Fornax cluster. Astronomers concluded that about 30 sources in the Fornax cluster were likely to be pairs of stars that had been kicked out of the center of their host galaxies. The research team hopes to look for more evicted binaries around other galaxies using Chandra in the future.
A Tour of Where is the Universe Hiding its Missing Mass?
Astronomers have spent decades looking for something that sounds like it would be hard to miss: about a third of the "normal" matter in the Universe. New results from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory may have helped them locate this elusive expanse of missing matter.
From independent, well-established observations, scientists have confidently calculated how much normal matter — meaning hydrogen, helium and other elements — existed soon after the Big Bang. In the time between the first few minutes and the first billion years or so, much of the normal matter made its way into gas and objects such as stars and planets, observed in the present-day Universe.
The problem is that when astronomers add up the mass of all the normal matter in the present-day Universe about a third of it can't be found. (This missing matter is distinct from the still-mysterious dark matter.)
One idea is that the missing mass gathered into gigantic strands or filaments of warm (that is, temperature less than 100,000 Kelvin) gas and hot (as in hotter than 100,000 Kelvin) gas in intergalactic space. These filaments are known by astronomers as the "warm-hot intergalactic medium" or WHIM. They are invisible to optical light telescopes, but some of the warm gas in filaments has been detected in ultraviolet light.
Using a new technique, researchers have found new and strong evidence for the hot component of the WHIM based on data from Chandra and other telescopes. They used Chandra to look for and study filaments of warm gas lying along the path to a quasar, a bright source of X-rays powered by a rapidly growing supermassive black hole. This quasar is located about 3.4 billion light years from Earth.
Their work revealed an absorption line from oxygen expected to be present in a gas with a temperature of about one million Kelvin. By extrapolating from these observations of oxygen to the full set of elements, and from the observed region to the local Universe, the researchers report they can account for the complete amount of missing matter.
If this result is confirmed, one of the biggest puzzles in modern astrophysics could be solved.
A Tour of Cygnus A
A ricocheting jet blasting from a giant black hole has been captured by NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory. Chandra's data reveal the presence of a powerful jet of particles and electromagnetic energy that has shot out from the black hole and slammed into a wall of hot gas, then ricocheted to punch a hole in a cloud of energetic particles, before it collides with another part of the gas wall.
Cygnus A is a large galaxy that sits in the middle of a cluster of galaxies about 760 million light years from Earth. A supermassive black hole at the center of Cygnus A is rapidly growing as it pulls material swirling around it into its gravitational grasp. During this process, some of this material is redirected away from the black hole in the form of a narrow beam, or jet. Such jets can significantly affect how the galaxy and its surroundings evolve.
In a deep observation that lasted 23 days, scientists used Chandra to create a highly detailed map of both the jet and the intergalactic gas, which they used to track the path of the jets from the black hole. The jet expanded after ricocheting and created a hole in a nearby cloud of particles that is between 50,000 and 100,000 light years deep and 26,000 light years wide. For context, the Earth is located about 26,000 light years away from the center of the Milky Way galaxy.
Energy produced by jets from black holes can heat intergalactic gas in galaxy clusters and prevent it from cooling and forming large numbers of stars in a central galaxy like Cygnus A. By studying Cygnus A, scientists can tell more about how jets from black holes interact with their surroundings.
A Quick Look at ASASSN14-li
In a galaxy about 290 million light years from Earth, a star wandered too close to a black hole.
The immense gravitational forces of the black hole shredded the star, sending the stellar remains into orbit around it.
Scientists used several telescopes including NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory to study this "tidal disruption" event called ASASSN-14li.
They were able to use the data to measure the spin of the giant black hole at the center of the galaxy containing ASASSN-14li.
The scientists determined that the black hole in ASASSN-14li is spinning incredibly quickly — about half as fast as the speed of light or faster.
Since the spins of black holes have been difficult to measure, this discovery is exciting for astronomers.
A Tour of ASASSN14-li
In November 2014, a network of optical telescopes picked up a bright outburst from a galaxy about 290 million light years from Earth. Scientists determined that this was a so-called tidal disruption event, where a star wandered too close to a black hole and was ripped apart by immense gravitational forces.
Astronomers used other telescopes including a flotilla of high-energy telescopes in space — NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, ESA's XMM-Newton and NASA's Neil Gehrels Swift observatory — to study the X-rays emitted as the remains of a star swirled toward the black hole at the center of the galaxy.
Some of the remains of the star are pulled into a disk where they circle the black hole before passing over the "event horizon," the boundary beyond which nothing, including light, can escape.
The tidal disruption in ASASSN-14li allowed astronomers to estimate the spin rate of the black hole. A black hole has two fundamental properties: mass and spin. While it has been relatively easy for astronomers to determine the mass of black holes, it has been much more difficult to get accurate measurements of their spins.
This debris from the shredded star gave astronomers an avenue to directly estimate the black hole's spin in ASASSN-14li. They found that the event horizon around this black hole is about 300 times the diameter of the Earth, yet rotates once every two minutes (compared to the 24 hours it takes to complete one rotation). This means that the black hole is spinning at least about half as fast as the speed of light.
These results will likely encourage astronomers to observe future tidal disruption events for long durations to look for similar, regular variations in their X-ray brightness.
A Quick Look at Cygnus A
Black holes are notorious for pulling things toward them.
But in some cases, black holes can act as powerful engines to blast material away.
One of those black holes is found in Cygnus A, a large galaxy embedded within in a cluster of galaxies.
Cygnus A's black hole is blasting a jet — a tightly-wound column of material — away from it at extremely high speeds.
Astronomers found that his jet ricocheted off a wall of hot gas, then punched a hole in a cloud of energetic particles, leaving behind a gigantic hole.
By studying this kind of behavior, scientists can better understand how black holes affect their surroundings.
Only an X-ray telescope with the sharp vision of NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory could make such a discovery.
A Tour of Archival Images
The Chandra X-ray Center has prepared a platter of cosmic treats from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory to enjoy. This selection represents different types of objects -- ranging from relatively nearby exploded stars to extremely distant and massive clusters of galaxies -- that emit X-rays detected by Chandra. Each image in this collection blends Chandra data with other telescopes, creating a colorful medley of light from our Universe.
Let’s look at the offerings.
E0102-72.3 is a supernova remnant produced by a massive star that exploded in a nearby galaxy called the Small Magellanic Cloud. X-rays from Chandra have helped astronomers confirm that most of the oxygen in the universe is synthesized in massive stars. The amount of oxygen in the E0102-72.3 ring shown here is enough for thousands of solar systems. This image also contains optical data from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and the Very Large Telescope in Chile.
Located about 4 billion light years from Earth, Abell 370 is a galaxy cluster containing several hundred galaxies. Galaxy clusters are the largest objects in the Universe held together by gravity. In addition to the individual galaxies, they contain vast amounts of multimillion-degree gas that emits X-rays, and dark matter that supplies most of the gravity of the cluster, yet does not produce any light. Chandra reveals the hot gas in a combined image with optical data from Hubble.
Also known as NGC 6523 or the Lagoon Nebula, Messier 8 is a giant cloud of gas and dust where stars are currently forming. At a distance of about 4,000 light years from Earth, Messier 8 provides astronomers an excellent opportunity to study the properties of very young stars. Many infant stars give off copious amounts of high-energy light including X-rays, which are seen in the Chandra data. The X-ray data have been combined with an optical image of Messier 8 from the Mt. Lemmon Sky Center in Arizona.
Look just below the middle of the three stars in the belt in the constellation of Orion to find the Orion Nebula, which can be seen without a telescope. With a telescope like Chandra, however, the view is much different. In this image, X-rays from Chandra reveal individual young stars, which are hot and energetic. When combined with radio emission from the NSF’s Very Large Array, a vista of this stellar nursery is created that the unaided human eye could never capture.
The Triangulum Galaxy, a.k.a., Messier 33, is a spiral galaxy about 3 million light years from Earth. It belongs to the Local Group of galaxies that includes the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies. Chandra’s X-ray data (pink) reveal a diverse range of objects including neutron stars and black holes that are pulling material from a companion star, and supernova remnants. An optical image by amateur astronomer Warren Keller shows the majestic arms of this spiral galaxy that in many ways is a cousin to our own Milky Way.
This composite image contains the aftermath of a giant collision involving four separate galaxy clusters at a distance of about 3.5 billion light years. Officially known as Abell 2744, this system is also referred to by astronomers as “Pandora’s Cluster” because of all of the different structures found within it. This view of Abell 2744 contains X-ray data from Chandra showing hot gas, optical data from Subaru and the VLT, plus a map depicting the total mass concentration in the cluster, using optical data. Most of the cluster’s mass is dark matter.
Those of us at the Chandra X-ray Center wish you a wonderful 2019 and another year of excitement and discovery.
A Quick Look at Archival Images
Chandra Image Collection (Archives 2018)
A platter of cosmic treats from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory.
From relatively close exploded stars to distant, massive galaxy clusters.
Each image blends Chandra data with other telescopes.
Creating a colorful medley of light from our Universe.
E0102-72.3: The debris from an exploded star.
Abell 370: A gigantic galaxy cluster billions of light years away.
Messier 8: A region of star formation.
Orion Nebula: One of the most famous nebulas in the sky.
Messier 33: A spiral galaxy like our own Milky Way.
Abell 2744: Where four galaxy clusters collide.
Wishing you a very Happy 2019 from the Chandra X-ray Observatory.
Tour of Abel 1033 Chandra Telescope / Star Trek Enterprise
Hidden in a distant galaxy cluster collision are wisps of gas resembling the starship Enterprise – an iconic spaceship from the "Star Trek" franchise.
Galaxy clusters — cosmic structures containing hundreds or even thousands of galaxies — are the largest objects in the Universe held together by gravity. Multi-million-degree gas fills the space in between the individual galaxies. The mass of the hot gas is about six times greater than that of all the galaxies combined. This superheated gas is invisible to optical telescopes, but shines brightly in X-rays, so an X-ray telescope like NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory is required to study it.
By combining X-rays with other types of light, such as radio waves, a more complete picture of these important cosmic objects can be obtained. A new composite image of the galaxy cluster Abell 1033, including X-rays from Chandra (purple) and radio emission from the Low-Frequency Array (LOFAR) network in the Netherlands (blue), does just that. Optical emission from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey is also shown. The galaxy cluster is located about 1.6 billion light years from Earth.
Using X-ray and radio data, scientists have determined that Abell 1033 is actually two galaxy clusters in the process of colliding. This extraordinarily energetic event, happening from the top to the bottom in the image, has produced turbulence and shock waves, similar to sonic booms produced by a plane moving faster than the speed of sound.
In addition to the astrophysical value, the new Abell 1033 image also provides an excellent example of something that happens in another scientific field. Pareidolia is the psychological phenomenon where familiar shapes and patterns are seen in otherwise random data. In Abell 1033, the structures in the data create an uncanny resemblance — at least to some people — to many of the depictions of the fictional Starship Enterprise from Star Trek. Because of the abstract quality of data taken of space objects, pareidolia can happen quite frequently with astronomical images.
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A Tour of GRB 150101B
On October 16, 2017, astronomers excitedly reported the first detection of electromagnetic waves, or light, from a gravitational wave source. Now, a year later, researchers are announcing the existence of a cosmic relative to that historic event.
The discovery was made using data from a host of telescopes including NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory.
The object of the new study, called GRB 150101B, was first reported as a gamma-ray burst detected by Fermi in January 2015. This detection and follow-up observations show that this new object shares remarkable similarities to the neutron star merger and gravitational wave source discovered by the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory, and its European counterpart Virgo in 2017 known as GW170817.
The latest study concludes that these two separate objects may, in fact, be related. The researchers think both GRB 150101B and GW170817 were most likely produced by the same type of event: the merger of two neutron stars. This is a catastrophic collision that generated a narrow jet, or beam, of high-energy particles. The jet produced a short, intense burst of gamma rays, a high-energy flash that can last only seconds. This was followed by an afterglow in optical light that lasted a few days and X-ray emission that lasted much longer.
Scientists think both of these events involved kilonovas, that is, powerful explosions that release large amounts of energy and can produce elements like gold, platinum and uranium. Understanding these explosions helps astronomers trace our cosmic ancestry. There is still a lot to learn about these events, but Chandra is poised to help in this new era of combined gravitational wave and electromagnetic investigations into our Universe.
A Tour of Abell 2142
Astronomers have used data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory to capture a dramatic image of an enormous tail of hot gas. This tail stretches for more than a million light years behind a group of galaxies that is falling into the depths of an even-larger cluster of galaxies. Discoveries like this help astronomers learn about the environment and conditions under which the Universe's biggest structures evolve.
Galaxy clusters are the largest structures in the Universe held together by gravity. While galaxy clusters can contain hundreds or even thousands of individual galaxies, the lion's share of mass in a galaxy cluster comes from hot gas, which gives off X-rays, and unseen dark matter. How did these cosmic giants get to be so big?
Scientists have discovered that one way galaxy clusters grow is by capturing other galaxies with their extraordinarily powerful gravity. Abell 2142 is a galaxy cluster that contains hundreds of galaxies immersed in giant reservoirs of multi-million-degree gas. A wide-field view including Chandra data shows that a much smaller group of galaxies is plummeting toward the center of Abell 2142, adding to the enormous heft of this cluster.
Behind this diving galaxy group, astronomers found a remarkable long tail of X-rays that extends for hundreds of thousands of light years. This tail formed when hot gas from the group of galaxies falls is stripped off into Abell 2142, much like leaves from a tree in the fall during a strong gust of wind. The shape and length of the tail tells astronomers about certain properties in the system, such as the strength of the magnetic fields that may be wrapping about the tail.
Galaxy clusters have been one of Chandra's most compelling targets over its nearly two decades of operations in space. Scientists look forward to studying many more in the years to come.
A Quick Look at Abell 2142
Astronomers have used data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory to make heads and tails of a fascinating galactic system.
Abell 2142 is a galaxy cluster, one of the largest structures in the Universe, containing hundreds of galaxies and huge amounts of hot gas.
Chandra captured a smaller galaxy group, with a handful of galaxies, plummeting toward Abell 2142.
Behind this diving galaxy group is a long tail of X-rays extending for over a million light years.
By studying this system, astronomers can learn more about how the Universe's biggest objects have collided and grown over billions of years.
A Tour of RW Aur A
Since 1937, astronomers have puzzled over the curious variability of a young star named RW Aur A, which is located about 450 light years from Earth. Every few decades, the star's optical light has faded briefly before brightening again. In recent years, astronomers have observed the star dimming more frequently, and for longer periods.
Using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, a team of scientists may have uncovered what caused the star's most recent dimming event: a collision of two infant planetary bodies. Once the planets were destroyed, the debris would have fallen onto the star, generating a thick veil of dust and gas. This would have temporarily obscured the star's light, explaining the dimming astronomers have seen.
Computer simulations have long predicted that planets can fall into a young star, but scientists have never before observed that before now. If this most recent study is correct, it would be the first time that astronomers have directly observed a young star devouring a planet.
Because the X-rays come from the hot outer atmosphere of the star, changes in the X-ray spectrum — the intensity of X-rays measured at different wavelengths — over these three observations were used to probe the density and composition of the absorbing material around the star.
The team found that the dips in both optical and X-ray light are caused by dense gas obscuring the star's light. The observation in 2017 showed strong emission from iron atoms, indicating that the disk contained at least 10 times more iron than in the 2013 observation during a bright period.
The researchers think the excess iron was created when two planetesimals, or infant planetary bodies, collided. If one or both planetary bodies are made partly of iron, their smash-up could release a large amount of iron into the star's disk and temporarily obscure its light as the material falls into the star.
This discovery gives insight into the processes affecting the development of infant planets. Undoubtedly, astronomers will continue to study this fascinating object with Chandra and other telescopes.
A Quick Look at RW Aur A
For decades, astronomers have watched as the star RW Aur A has faded and brightened in optical light.
RW Aur A is a few million years old and relatively close to Earth at a distance of 450 light years.
Recently, they watched as the star dimmed more frequently and for longer periods of time.
To investigate this mystery, a team of scientists used NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory to study it using a different kind of light: X-rays.
The X-rays provided evidence that the most recent dimming was caused by the destruction of a young planet that was then devoured by a star.
This would be the first time that anyone has seen such an event and would help astronomers better understand how infant planets develop.
A Tour of Alpha Centauri
In humanity's search for life outside our Solar System, one of the best places to look is Alpha Centauri, a system containing the three nearest stars beyond the Sun.
A new study that has involved monitoring of Alpha Centauri for more than a decade by NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory provides encouraging news about one key aspect of planetary habitability. It indicates that any planets orbiting the two brightest stars in the Alpha Cen system are likely not being pummeled by large amounts of X-ray radiation from their host stars.
Alpha Centauri is a triple star system located just over four light years, or about 25 trillion miles, from Earth. While this is a large distance in terrestrial terms, it is three times closer than the next nearest Sun-like star.
The stars in the Alpha Centauri system include a pair called "A" and "B," that we'll call AB, which orbit relatively close to each other. Alpha Cen A is a near twin of our Sun in almost every way, including age, while Alpha Cen B is somewhat smaller and dimmer but still quite similar to the Sun. The third member, Alpha Cen C (also known as Proxima), is a much smaller red dwarf star that travels around the AB pair in a much larger orbit that takes it more than 10 thousand times farther from the AB pair than the Earth-Sun distance. Proxima currently holds the title of the nearest star to Earth, although AB is a very close second.
The Chandra data reveal that the prospects for life in terms of current X-ray bombardment are actually better around Alpha Cen A than for the Sun, and Alpha Cen B fares only slightly worse. Proxima, on the other hand, is a type of active red dwarf star known to frequently send out dangerous flares of X-ray radiation, and is likely hostile to life.
A Tour of GW170817
The spectacular merger of two neutron stars that generated gravitational waves announced last fall likely did something else: birthed a black hole. This newly spawned black hole would be the lowest mass black hole ever found.
A new study analyzed data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory taken in the days, weeks, and months after the detection of gravitational waves by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory, or LIGO, and gamma rays by NASA's Fermi mission on August 17, 2017.
While nearly every telescope at professional astronomers' disposal observed this source, known officially as GW170817, X-rays from Chandra are critical for understanding what happened after the two neutron stars collided.
From the LIGO data astronomers have a good estimate that the mass of the object resulting from the neutron star merger is about 2.7 times the mass of the Sun. This puts it on a tightrope of identity, implying it is either the most massive neutron star ever found or the lowest mass black hole ever found. The previous record holders for the latter are no less than about four or five times the Sun's mass.
The Chandra observations are telling, not only for what they revealed, but also for what they did not. If the neutron stars merged and formed a heavier neutron star, then astronomers would expect it to spin rapidly and generate a very strong magnetic field. This, in turn, would have created an expanding bubble of high-energy particles that would result in bright X-ray emission. Instead, the Chandra data show levels of X-rays that are a factor of a few to several hundred times lower than expected for a rapidly spinning, merged neutron star and the associated bubble of high-energy particles, implying a black hole likely formed instead.
A Tour of E0102
Neutron stars are the ultra dense cores of massive stars that collapse and undergo a supernova explosion. This neutron star is located within the remains of a supernova — known as 1E 0102.2-7219 (E0102 for short) — in the Small Magellanic Cloud, located 200,000 light years from Earth.
E0102's neutron star is different from most others because it has both a low magnetic field and does not have a star in orbit around it. Its remnant is also unusual because it contains high levels of oxygen like two other well-known supernova remnants, Cassiopeia A and Puppis A. These oxygen-rich supernova remnants are important for understanding how massive stars fuse lighter elements into heavier ones before they explode.
Future observations of E0102 at X-ray, optical, and radio wavelengths should help astronomers understand the origin of this lonely neutron star.
A Quick Look at E0102
A distant and lonely neutron star has been discovered outside the Milky Way galaxy for the first time.
Neutron stars are the ultra-dense cores of massive stars that collapse and undergo a supernova explosion.
1E 0102.2-7219 is a supernova remnant, the stellar debris field left behind after the giant star exploded.
Data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and other telescopes points to a celestial bull's eye where the neutron star was found.
Unlike many other neutron stars, this one has a very low magnetic field and no stellar companion.
Astronomers will continue to observe this object at X-ray, radio, and visible light wavelengths to learn more about this cosmic oddity.
A Tour of NGC 6231
In some ways, star clusters are like giant families with thousands of stellar siblings. These stars come from the same origins — a common cloud of gas and dust — and are bound to one another by gravity. Astronomers think that our Sun was born in a star cluster about 4.6 billion years ago that quickly dispersed.
By studying young star clusters, astronomers hope to learn more about how stars — including our Sun — are born. NGC 6231, located about 5,200 light years from Earth, is an ideal testbed for studying a stellar cluster at a critical stage of its evolution: not long after star formation has stopped.
The discovery of NGC 6231 is attributed to Giovanni Battista Hodierna, an Italian mathematician and priest who published observations of the cluster in 1654. Sky watchers today can find the star cluster to the southwest of the tail of the constellation Scorpius.
NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory has been used to identify the young Sun-like stars in NGC 6231, which have, until recently, been hiding in plain sight. Young star clusters like NGC 6231 are found in the band of the Milky Way on the sky. As a result, interloping stars lying in front of or behind NGC 6231 greatly outnumber the stars in the cluster. These stars will generally be much older than those in NGC 6231, so members of the cluster can be identified by selecting signs of stellar youth. The Chandra data, combined with infrared data from the VISTA telescope, have provided the best census of young stars in NGC 6231 available.
By studying this cluster and others like it, astronomers hope to better understand our Sun's origins and our shared cosmic ancestry with stars across the Galaxy.
A Quick Look at NGC 6231
Astronomers think that our Sun was born in a cluster of stars about 4.6 billion years ago that quickly dispersed.
Studying other stellar clusters helps scientists better understand how stars — including our Sun — are born.
NGC 6231 is a relatively nearby cluster in the Milky Way galaxy with thousands of stars.
NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory has been used to identify the young Sun-like stars in NGC 6231, which have, until recently, been hiding in plain sight.
By combining X-rays from Chandra with infrared data, astronomers have compiled the best census to date of the stars in NGC 6231.
Colorful Gaseous Filaments Surround Dead Star in New Mashed-Up Image
The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope (reddish background image/supernova remnant 1E 0102.2-7219 in green), the MUSE instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope (red ring with a dark center) and the NASA Chandra X-Ray Observatory (blue and purple images) were used to create this a new composite image.
“The blue spot at the centre of the red ring is an isolated neutron star with a weak magnetic field,” according to the European Southern Observatory (ESO). -- Full Story: https://www.space.com/40241-neutron-star-colorful-galaxy-clouds-discovery.html
A Tour of the Cold Front in the Perseus Cluster
Winter often brings many intense and powerful storms, with cold fronts sweeping across many parts of the globe. There are, however, even bigger weather systems. For example, astronomers have discovered cold fronts in space that are millions of light years in extent and older than the Solar System.
For example, researchers used NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory to study a cold front located in the Perseus galaxy cluster that extends for about two million light years, or about 10 billion billion miles.
Galaxy clusters are the largest and most massive objects in the Universe that are held together by gravity. In between the hundreds or even thousands of galaxies in a cluster, there are vast reservoirs of super-heated gas that glow brightly in X-ray light.
The cold front in the Perseus cluster consists of a relatively dense band of gas with a "cool" temperature of about 30 million degrees moving through lower density hot gas of about 80 million degrees. The enormous cold front formed about 5 billion years ago and has been traveling at speeds of about 300,000 miles per hour ever since.
The cold front has not only survived for over a third of the age of the Universe, but it has also remained surprisingly sharp and split into two different pieces.
Astronomers expected that such an old cold front would have been blurred out or eroded over time because it has traveled for billions of years through a harsh environment of sound waves and turbulence caused by outbursts from the huge black hole at the center of Perseus. Instead, the sharpness of the Perseus cold front suggests that the structure has been preserved by magnetic fields that are wrapped around it.
Perseus is the same cluster where astronomers use Chandra to discover sound waves with a note of B-flat 57 octaves below middle-C plus a giant wave about twice the width of the Milky Way galaxy. Astronomers will continue to use Chandra and other telescopes to study this fascinating galaxy cluster.
A Quick Look at the Cold Front in the Perseus Cluster
Astronomers have used NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory to study a gigantic and resilient "cold front" in the Perseus galaxy cluster.
This cold front consists of a band of gas with a "cool" temperature of about 30 million degrees moving through lower density, 80-million-degree gas.
Scientists determined this cold front spans about 2 million light years, moves at speeds around 300,000 mph, and formed some 5 billion years ago.
Not only has it survived for so long, the cold front has also remained surprisingly sharp and split into two different pieces.
This suggests that magnetic fields are wrapped around the cold front, which formed before the birth of our Solar System, preserving it.
A Tour of the Galactic Center
A new visualization provides an exceptional virtual trip — complete with a 360-degree view — to the center of our home galaxy, the Milky Way.
A Quick Look at the Galactic Center
The Earth is located about 26,000 light years, or about 200,000 trillion miles, from the center of the Galaxy.
While humans cannot physically travel there, scientists have been able to study this region by using data from powerful telescopes.
A new visualization, based on data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and other telescopes, lets viewers explore the Milky Way's center.
In this 360-degree movie, viewers can see powerful winds from giant stars around the Galaxy's supermassive black hole.
Scientists are using this visualization to examine the effects from the black hole on its stellar neighbors.
Walking Among the Stars Demo: Supernova Remnant Cassiopeia A in Virtual Reality
A new project using data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and other telescopes allows people to navigate through real data of the remains of an exploded star for the first time.
This three-dimensional virtual reality (VR) project with augmented reality (AR) allows users to explore inside the debris from actual observations of the supernova remnant called Cassiopeia A. Cassiopeia A (Cas A, for short) is the debris field of a massive star that blew itself apart over 340 years ago.
The new 3D VR/AR project of Cas A is a collaboration between the Chandra X-ray Center in Cambridge, Mass., and Brown University's Center for Computation and Visualization in Providence, RI, and will provide new opportunities for public communications, informal education, and research.
"The stars are much too far away to touch, but this project will let experts and non-experts — at least virtually — walk among one of the most famous supernova remnants in our sky," said Kimberly Arcand, Visualization Lead at the Chandra X-ray Center.
VR is computer technology that simulates a user's physical presence in a virtual environment. AR adds elements, such as text, overlays and audio, to enhance that experience with sensory input.
Chandra has repeatedly observed Cas A since the telescope was launched into space in 1999. Each exposure has added new and important data to the growing bank of information that astronomers use to study this object. This deep reservoir of data has allowed astronomers and visualization specialists to take the Cas A far beyond the two-dimensional imagery that exists for most astronomical objects.
In 2009, a team of scientists, including astrophysicist Tracy Delaney (then of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and visualization experts used data from Chandra, NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, and ground-based optical facilities to generate a three-dimensional (3D) digital model of Cas A, the first ever of a supernova remnant. In 2013, a team of data specialists translated that into the first 3D print of a supernova remnant.
"As technology has advanced in the VR and AR realms in recent years, we realized that we could go further with the 3D Cas A model," said Arcand. "Instead of us telling people where to look in Cas A, this project lets them decide for themselves."
"The visualization of the Cas A supernova remnant took years to put together, and it deserves a magnificent way to experience it," said Tom Sgouros of Brown's Virtual Reality Lab. "Short of creating a building-size replica of the data, we think virtual reality is the best way to do that."
The 3D visualization and VR/AR may also pay scientific dividends as well. It shows that there are two main components to this supernova remnant: a spherical component in the outer parts of the remnant and a flattened (disk-like) component in the inner region. The insight into the structure of Cas A gained from the 3D visualization is important for astronomers who build models of supernova explosions.
The VR project is being made available in an open access format suitable for VR caves or "Yurts," as well as on the Oculus Rift platform. Please contact Kimberly Kowal Arcand (kkowal "at" cfa.harvard.edu) for more information on accessing those files. The project coordinators plan for a Google Cardboard version in future iterations. Additional data-driven 3D astronomical objects are also in the works for the Chandra VR/AR experience.
More information on Cas A in VR is available at http://chandra.si.edu/vr.
For access to non-VR versions, the Smithsonian Learning Lab has created an interactive 3D application for the 3D Cas A with related resources and activities. Visit http://s.si.edu/cas-a
A Tour of the Perseus Cluster
Dark matter is the mysterious and pervasive substance that constitutes most — about 85% — of the matter in our Universe. Although scientists have made progress in better understanding dark matter, the true nature of this invisible material remains elusive.
NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory plays an important role in the search to learn about dark matter. One way that astronomers have used Chandra to investigate dark matter has been through the study of a mysterious signal seen in the X-ray data. In 2014, astronomers reported they found a spike of intensity at a very specific energy in Chandra and XMM-Newton observations of the hot gas in the Perseus and other galaxy clusters. This spike, or emission line, is at an energy of 3.5 kiloelectron volts, or keV (pronounced "kay-ee-vee"), and could not easily be explained as emission from known elements. Therefore, one possibility was that this line was produced by dark matter particles.
Naturally, determining the true nature of dark matter would be a huge discovery. And as Carl Sagan famously said, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Therefore, astronomers have been working hard both to replicate the initial results and also provide explanations for all of the observations connected to this original finding.
Now a new team of astronomers has provided an innovative interpretation of the observations surrounding this 3.5 keV line. They propose that there is another mechanism at work, namely the absorption of X-ray light by mystery particles. If this is true, then it's possible that the 3.5 keV line may, in fact, be produced by dark matter particles. While these ideas need to be confirmed with future observations, it may be that the prospect of determining the nature of the darkest of matter may never have been more so bright.
A Tour of Cassiopeia A
Where do most of the elements essential for life on Earth come from? The answer: inside the furnaces of stars and the explosions that mark the end of some stars' lives.
Astronomers have long studied exploded stars and their remains — known as "supernova remnants" — to better understand exactly how stars produce and then disseminate many of the elements on Earth and throughout the cosmos.
Cassiopeia A, or Cas A for short, is one of the most intensely studied of these supernova remnants. A new image from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory shows the location of different elements in the remains of the explosion: silicon, sulfur, calcium, and iron. Each of these elements produces X-rays within narrow energy ranges, allowing maps of their location to be created. Astronomers also see the blast wave from the explosion in the form of the blue outer ring.
X-ray telescopes such as Chandra are important to study supernova remnants and the elements they produce because these events generate extremely high temperatures — millions of degrees — that remain even thousands of years after the explosion. This means that many supernova remnants, including Cas A, glow most strongly at X-ray wavelengths that are undetectable with other types of telescopes.
Chandra's sharp X-ray vision helps astronomers not only determine what elements are present in Cas A, but also how much of each there is. For example, Cas A has dispersed about 10,000 Earth masses worth of sulfur alone, and about 20,000 Earth masses of silicon. The iron in Cas A weighs about 70,000 times that of the Earth, and astronomers detect a whopping one million Earth masses worth of oxygen being ejected into space from Cas A, equivalent to about three times the mass of the Sun.
Chandra has repeatedly observed Cas A since the telescope was launched into space in 1999. It will continue to do so, revealing new information about the dense core left behind in the center of Cas A, details of the powerful explosion, and specifics of how the important debris is ejected into space.
How to Hold a Dead Star in Your Hand
Kimberly Arcand, CfA, Visualization Lead for NASA's Chandra X-Ray Observatory; Tom Sgouros, Manager of the Brown University Virtual Reality Lab
Objects in space are rather far away. The Moon is our closest celestial neighbor at nearly a quarter million miles from Earth, and the nearest star, our Sun, is 93 million miles away. These extreme distances mean that it’s usually impossible to touch real objects in space (meteorites that fall to the ground notwithstanding). But now, thanks to data from some of our favorite observatories, anyone can hold a dead star in their hand. Here’s how. Arcand, of the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, will talk about the process of creating the first data-based 3D model and print of an exploded star. At the end of Arcand's talk, she will be joined by Tom Sgouros, a researcher with and on virtual reality at the Brown University Center for Computation and Visualization. Arcand and Sgouros have worked together to develop software, using Occulus Rift technology, allowing observers virtual first-hand experience of a supernova remnant like never before.
Original music by Mark C. Petersen, Loch Ness Productions. Used with permission.
Animations used under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
A Tour of Jupiter's Auroras
On Earth, people at very high latitudes sometimes enjoy the spectacular light shows known as the auroras, also called the northern or southern lights. Our planet is not, however, the only world to experience auroras. For some time, scientists have observed high-energy auroras on Jupiter in the form of ultraviolet and X-ray light. A new study using data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and ESA’s XMM-Newton shows that the auroras on Jupiter are significantly different than those on Earth. Scientists have discovered that Jupiter’s auroras behave independently of one another at each pole. This is unlike Earth, where the northern and southern lights tend to mirror one another.
To understand how Jupiter produces its X-ray auroras, researchers plan to combine new and upcoming X-ray data from Chandra and XMM-Newton with information from NASA’s Juno mission, which is currently in orbit around the planet. If scientists can connect the X-ray activity with physical changes observed simultaneously with Juno, they may be able to determine the process that generates the Jovian auroras.
There are many questions this new X-ray study pose: how does Jupiter’s magnetic field give particles the huge energies needed to make X-rays? Do these high-energy particles affect the Jovian weather and the chemical composition of its atmosphere? Can they explain the unusually high temperatures found in certain places in Jupiter’s atmosphere? These are the questions that Chandra, XMM-Newton, and Juno may be able to help answer in the future.
A Quick Look at Jupiter's Auroras
A new study reveals the auroras -- a.k.a. the northern or southern lights – on Jupiter behave mysteriously.
X-ray observations from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and ESA’s XMM-Newton showed something surprising.
Unlike on Earth, the auroras on Jupiter at each pole act independently of one another.
This is causing scientists to revisit their ideas for how Jupiter’s auroras are generated.
In the future, scientists plan to combine data from Chandra, XMM-Newton, and the Juno spacecraft, which is currently orbiting Jupiter.
They hope this reveals the source of this high-energy light show on the fifth planet from our Sun.
The CHANDRA X-Ray Observatory - Space Documentary
It has been only forty years since humanity has known the existence of the strange and dynamic x-ray universe, an invisible universe of million degree gas, immense jets of radiation, exploding stars and distant quasars. Join Nichelle Nichols, Star Trek's Lt. Uhura, as she guides you on the decades long odyssey to reveal this wondrous universe with NASA's largest X-ray telescope.
#DeepSpaceTV #ChandraXray #SpaceDocumentary
A Tour of GJ 176
As astronomers discover more planets outside the Solar System, they are examining what conditions can foster or stifle the habitability of planets. A new study suggests that X-rays emitted by a planet's host star may provide critical clues to just how hospitable a star system could be.
A team of researchers used data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and ESA's XMM-Newton to look at the X-ray brightness of 24 stars with masses similar to the Sun that were at least a billion years old.
Since stellar X-rays mirror magnetic activity, X-ray observations can tell astronomers about the high-energy environment around the star. In the new study the X-ray data from Chandra and XMM-Newton revealed that stars like the Sun and their less massive cousins calm down surprisingly quickly after a turbulent youth.
This is good news for the future habitability of planets orbiting Sun-like stars, because the amount of harmful X-rays and ultraviolet radiation from stellar flares striking planets in orbit around them would be less than scientists used to think.
Astronomers will continue to look at many factors that they think play into the habitability of planets around the thousands of exoplanets that have been discovered. Studies like these show that X-rays can play a critical role in the ultimate question of where life might exist elsewhere in the Universe.
A Quick Look at GJ 176
Scientists are using X-rays to determine the hospitability of stars for life on exoplanets.
Data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and ESA's XMM-Newton were used to study 24 stars like our Sun that were at least one billion years old.
They found these older stars had lower levels of X-rays — and hence magnetic activity — than other types of stars.
This relatively calm is good news for life trying to form on planets around these stars.
Astronomers will continue to look at different properties, including X-rays, to assess the best place to look for life outside our Solar System.
A Quick Look at IC 10
IC 10 is a galaxy about 2.2 million light years from Earth undergoing a period of intense star formation.
Observations with the Chandra X-ray Observatory reveal over 100 sources that glow in X-rays.
Of these, about a dozen are systems where a black hole or neutron star is in orbit with a young, massive companion star.
These systems, called X-ray binaries, are interesting because some of them could become sources of gravitational waves in the future.
Astronomers using Chandra and other telescopes will continue to study X-ray binaries to better understand how they behave.
A Tour of R Aquarii
In biology, “symbiosis” refers to two organisms that live close to and interact with one another. Astronomers have long studied a class of stars — called symbiotic stars — that co-exist in a similar way. Using data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and other telescopes, astronomers are gaining a better understanding of how volatile this close stellar relationship can be.
R Aquarii is one of the best known of the symbiotic stars. Located at a distance of about 710 light years from Earth, its changes in brightness were first noticed with the naked eye almost a thousand years ago. Since then, astronomers have studied this object and determined that R Aqr is not one star, but two: a small, dense white dwarf and a cool red, giant star.
Occasionally, enough material will be pulled from the red giant onto the surface of the white dwarf to trigger thermonuclear fusion of hydrogen. The release of energy from this process can produce a nova, an asymmetric explosion that blows off the outer layers of the star at velocities of ten million miles per hour or more, pumping energy and material into space.
Since shortly after Chandra launched in 1999, astronomers began using the X-ray telescope to monitor the behavior of R Aquarii. Chandra’s data have provided new information about the details and timing of the explosions that occur in R Aquarii. Continued close monitoring of R Aquarii with Chandra and other telescopes in the future should give scientists more insight into this unusual stellar system.
A Quick Look at R Aquarii
R Aquraii is an unusual star system located about 710 light years from Earth.
It contains a white dwarf in orbit with a pulsating red giant star.
Because of differences in temperature and gravitational strength, the white dwarf pulls the outer layers toward it.
Occasionally, enough material accumulates on the white dwarf’s surface to trigger a thermonuclear explosion.
Scientists using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory have been studying these explosions.
They are learning just how complex and volatile this stellar relationship can be.
A Wave in the Perseus Cluster 200,000 Light Years Across.
A wave spanning 200,000 light years is rolling through the Perseus galaxy cluster, according to observations from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory coupled with a computer simulation. The simulation shows the gravitational disturbance resulting from the distant flyby of a galaxy cluster about a tenth the mass of the Perseus cluster.
The event causes cooler gas at the heart of the Perseus cluster to form a vast expanding spiral, which ultimately forms giant waves lasting hundreds of millions of years at its periphery. Merger events like this are thought to occur as often as every three to four billion years in clusters like Perseus.
A Quick Look at Supernova 1987A
On February 24, 1987, astronomers in the southern hemisphere saw a supernova in the Large Magellanic Cloud.
This new object was dubbed “Supernova 1987A” and was the brightest stellar explosion seen in over four centuries.
Chandra has observed Supernova 1987A many times and the X-ray data reveal important information about this object.
X-rays from Chandra have shown the expanding blast wave from the original explosion slamming into a ring of material expelled by the star before it exploded.
The latest Chandra data reveal the blast wave has moved beyond the ring into a region that astronomers do not know much about.
These observations can help astronomers learn how supernovas impact their environments and affect future generations of stars and planets.
Learn About Galaxies
There are billions of galaxies throughout the Universe and they come in different shapes and sizes.
A Tour of PSR B1259-63/LS 2883
A fast-moving pulsar appears to have punched a hole in a disk of gas around its companion star and launched a fragment of the disk outward at a speed of about 4 million miles per hour.
Geminga - B0355+54
NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory has taken deep exposures of two nearby energetic pulsars flying through the Milky Way galaxy. The shape of their X-ray emission suggests there is a geometrical explanation for puzzling differences in behavior shown by some pulsars. Pulsars - rapidly rotating, highly magnetized, neutron stars born in supernova explosions triggered by the collapse of massive stars- were discovered 50 years ago via their pulsed, highly regular, radio emission. Pulsars produce a lighthouse-like beam of radiation that astronomers detect as pulses as the pulsar's rotation sweeps the beam across the sky. Since their discovery, thousands of pulsars have been discovered, many of which produce beams of radio waves and gamma rays. Some pulsars show only radio pulses and others show only gamma-ray pulses. Chandra observations have revealed steady X-ray emission from extensive clouds of high-energy particles, called pulsar wind nebulas, associated with both types of pulsars. New Chandra data on pulsar wind nebulas may explain the presence or absence of radio and gamma-ray pulses. The four-panel graphic shows the two pulsars observed by Chandra. Geminga is in the upper left and B0355+54 is in the upper right. In both of these images, Chandra's X-rays, colored blue and purple, are combined with infrared data from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope that shows stars in the field of view. Below each data image, an artist's illustration depicts more details of what astronomers think the structure of each pulsar wind nebula looks like. For Geminga, a deep Chandra observation totaling nearly eight days over several years was analyzed to show sweeping, arced trails spanning half a light year and a narrow structure directly behind the pulsar. A five-day Chandra observation of the second pulsar, B0355+54, showed a cap of emission followed by a narrow double trail extending almost five light years. The underlying pulsars are quite similar, both rotating about five times per second and both aged about half a million years. However, Geminga shows gamma-ray pulses with no bright radio emission, while B0355+54 is one of the brightest radio pulsars known yet not seen in gamma rays. A likely interpretation of the Chandra images is that the long narrow trails to the side of Geminga and the double tail of B0355+54 represent narrow jets emanating from the pulsar's spin poles. Both pulsars also contain a torus, a disk-shaped region of emission spreading from the pulsar's spin equator. These donut-shaped structures and jets are crushed and swept back as the pulsars fly through the Galaxy at supersonic speeds. In the case of Geminga, the view of the torus is close to edge-on, while the jets point out to the sides. B0355+54 has a similar structure, but with the torus viewed nearly face-on and the jets pointing nearly directly towards and away from Earth. In B0355+54, the swept-back jets appear to lie almost on top of each other, giving a doubled tail. Both pulsars have magnetic poles quite close to their spin poles, as is the case for the Earth's magnetic field. These magnetic poles are the site of pulsar radio emission so astronomers expect the radio beams to point in a similar direction as the jets. By contrast the gamma-ray emission is mainly produced along the spin equator and so aligns with the torus. For Geminga, astronomers view the bright gamma-ray pulses along the edge of the torus, but the radio beams near the jets point off to the sides and remain unseen. For B0355+54, a jet points almost along our line of sight towards the pulsar. This means astronomers see the bright radio pulses, while the torus and its associated gamma-ray emission are directed in a perpendicular direction to our line of sight, missing the Earth. These two deep Chandra images have, therefore, exposed the spin orientation of these pulsars, helping to explain the presence, and absence, of the radio and gamma-ray pulses.
Chandra X-ray Observatory - Episode 1
Beyond the Light: Seeing is believing and what we observe stargazing or looking at photographs convinces us it's real. But there's more to the universe than meets the eye. Beyond what the eyes can see exists a hidden universe. An INVISIBLE Universe...
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