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Recent Podcast
Tour of NGC 2207
Tour of NGC 2207
When galaxies get together, there is also the chance of a spectacular light show. (2014-12-16)
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Animations & Video: Featured Image Tours
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1. A Tour of The Big, Bad & Beautiful Universe with Chandra
QuicktimeMPEG Audio Only In fifteen years of operation, the Chandra X-ray Observatory has given us a view of the universe that is largely hidden from telescopes sensitive only to visible light.

Chandra has captured galaxy clusters - the largest gravitationally bound objects in the universe - in the process of forming, and provided the best evidence yet that the cosmos is dominated by a mysterious substance called dark matter.

Chandra has observed gas circling near a black hole's event horizon. The atoms of this gas are doomed to destruction by the extreme gravity of the black hole.

Most of the elements necessary for life are forged inside stars and blasted into interstellar space by supernovas. Chandra has tracked these elements with unprecedented accuracy.

Young stars are crackling with X-ray flares and other energetic radiation. By monitoring clusters of young stars, Chandra can give us a sense of what our young Sun was like when life was evolving on Earth.

Chandra: Taking us on a unique voyage into the big, bad and beautiful universe.
[Runtime: 02:01]
(NASA/CXC. Produced by A.Hobart (CXC), Directed by K.Arcand (CXC), Script by W.Tucker (CXC), Narration by Chris Camilleri;)

Related Chandra Images:

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2. Pro-Am Tour
QuicktimeMPEG Audio Only Long before the term "citizen science" was coined, the field of astronomy has benefited from countless men and women who study the sky in their spare time. These amateur astronomers devote hours exploring the cosmos through a variety of telescopes that they acquire, maintain, and improve on their own. Some of these amateur astronomers specialize in capturing what is seen through their telescopes in images and are astrophotographers.

What happens when the work of amateur astronomers and astrophotographers is combined with the data from some of the world's most sophisticated space telescopes? These four composite images of galaxies reveal the possibilities. These galaxies are M101, also known as the "Pinwheel Galaxy", M81, Centaurus A, and M51, or, the "Whirlpool Galaxy". This Astro Pro-Am collaboration intends to raise interest and awareness among the amateur astronomer/astrophotographer community of the wealth of data publicly available, such as in NASA's various mission archives. This effort is particularly appropriate for this month because April marks Global Astronomy Month, the world's largest global celebration of astronomy.

For many amateur astronomers and astrophotographers, a main goal of their efforts is to observe and share the wonders of the Universe. However, the long exposures of these objects may also help to reveal phenomena that may otherwise be missed in the relatively short snapshots taken by major telescopes, which are tightly scheduled and often oversubscribed by professional astronomers. Therefore, projects like Astro Pro-Am might one day prove useful not only for producing spectacular images, but also contributing to the knowledge of what is happening in each of these cosmic vistas.
[Runtime: 02:11]
(NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)

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3. Tour of AM CVn
QuicktimeMPEG Audio Only In the middle of the twentieth century, an unusual star was spotted in the constellation of Canes Venatici (Latin for "hunting dogs"). Years later, astronomers determined that this object, dubbed AM Canum Venaticorum (or, AM CVn, for short), was, in fact, two stars. These stars revolve around each other every 18 minutes, and are predicted to generate gravitational waves - ripples in space-time predicted by Einstein.

Today, the name AM CVn represents a class of objects where one white dwarf star is pulling matter from a very compact companion star, such as a second white dwarf. (White dwarf stars are dense remains of Sun-like stars that have run out of fuel and collapsed to the size of the Earth.) The pairs of stars in AM CVn systems orbit each other extremely rapidly, whipping around one another in an hour, and in one case as quickly as 5 five minutes. By contrast, the fastest orbiting planet in our Solar System, Mercury, orbits the Sun once every 88 days.

Despite being known for almost 50 years, the question has remained: where do AM CVn systems come from? New X-ray and optical observations have begun to answer that with the discovery of the first known systems of double stars that astronomers think will evolve into AM CVn systems.

Observations with optical telescopes on the ground helped identify two systems, known as J0751 and J1741, that contain two white dwarfs and determined their masses. Scientists used Chandra to help rule out the possibility that J0751 and J1741 contained neutron stars. A neutron star - which would disqualify it from being a possible parent to an AM CVn system - would give off strong X-ray emission due to its magnetic field and rapid rotation. No X-ray emission was seen from either system, thus convincing scientists that these were going to evolve into AM CVn in the future.

As we mentioned before, AM CVn systems are of interest to scientists because they are predicted to be sources of gravitational waves. This is important because even though such waves have yet to be detected, many scientists and engineers are working on instruments that should be able to detect them in the near future. This will open a significant new observational window to the universe.
[Runtime: 02:55]
(NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)

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4. Tour of DEM L241
QuicktimeMPEG Audio Only When a massive star runs out fuel, it collapses and explodes as a supernova. Although these explosions are extremely powerful, it is possible for a nearby star to endure the blast. A team of astronomers using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and other telescopes has found evidence for one of these survivors. This hardy star is in a stellar explosion's debris field - also called its supernova remnant - located in an HII region called DEM L241. An HII (pronounced "H-two") region is created when the radiation from hot, young stars strips away the electrons from neutral hydrogen atoms to form clouds of ionized hydrogen. This particular HII region is located in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a small neighboring galaxy to the Milky Way. The supernova remnant remains hot for thousands of years after the original explosion occurred, and this means that it continues to glow brightly in X-rays that can be detected by Chandra. The data suggest that a point-like source in X-rays is one component of a binary star system. In such a celestial pair, either a neutron star or black hole, which is formed when the star went supernova, is in orbit with a star much larger than our Sun. As they orbit one another, the dense neutron star or black hole pulls material away its companion star through the wind of particles that flows away from its surface. If this result is confirmed, DEM L241 would be only the third binary containing both a massive star and a neutron star or black hole ever found in the aftermath of a supernova.
[Runtime: 01:59]
(NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)

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5. Tour of Eta Carinae
QuicktimeMPEG Audio Only The Eta Carinae star system does not lack for superlatives. First, it contains one of the biggest and brightest stars in our galaxy, weighing at least 90 times the mass of the Sun. It is also extremely volatile and astronomers expect it will have at least one supernova explosion in the future. As one of the first objects observed by NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory after its launch some 15 years ago, this double star system continues to reveal new clues about its nature through the X-rays it generates. New Chandra data are helping astronomers better understand how the two stars in Eta Carinae interact with one another through powerful winds blowing off their surfaces. As the two stars travel around each other in their elliptical orbits, the amount of X-rays detected changes. This gives astronomers clues to what is happening between these stars now and what may happen to this system in the future.
[Runtime: 01:15]
(NASA/CXC/April Jubett)

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6. Tour of Flame Nebula
QuicktimeMPEG Audio Only Astronomers have made an important advance in the understanding of how clusters of stars like our Sun form using data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and infrared telescopes. The data show early notions of how star clusters are formed cannot be correct. The simplest idea is stars form into clusters when a giant cloud of gas and dust condenses. The center of the cloud pulls in material from its surroundings until it becomes dense enough to trigger star formation. This process occurs in the center of the cloud first, implying that the stars in the middle of the cluster form first and, therefore, are the oldest. These new results suggest something else is happening. By studying two clusters where Sun-like stars are forming - NGC 2024 (located in the center of the "Flame Nebula") and the Orion Nebula Cluster - researchers have discovered the stars on the outskirts of the clusters are actually the oldest. The researchers will use this same technique of combining X-rays and infrared data to study the age range in other clusters. In the meantime, scientists will be hard at work to develop other, more complex ideas to explain what they've seen in NGC 2024 and the Orion Nebula Cluster.
[Runtime: 01:32]
(NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)

Related Chandra Images:

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7. Tour of G352.7-0.1
QuicktimeMPEG Audio Only Supernovas are the spectacular ends to the lives of many massive stars. These explosions, which occur on average twice a century in the Milky Way, can produce enormous amounts of energy and be as bright as an entire galaxy. These events are also important because the remains of the shattered star are hurled into space. As this debris field - called a supernova remnant - expands, it carries the material it encounters along with it. Astronomers have found a supernova remnant that is sweeping up a remarkable amount of material – equivalent to 45 times the mass of the Sun. This may indicate that a special type of stellar evolution has occurred, involving a giant star that ran into unusually dense material before exploding to form a supernova remnant. This supernova - which is called G352.7-0.1 -- has other interesting traits that scientists are still looking to explain. G352.7-0.1 is found about 24,000 light years from Earth in the Milky Way galaxy.
[Runtime: 01:17]
( NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)

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8. Tour of IGR J11014-6103
QuicktimeMPEG Audio Only Astronomers have found a remarkable object in our Milky Way galaxy. This object is a pulsar, the spinning dense core that remains after a massive star has exploded and collapsed. When this pulsar was created, something interesting happened because this pulsar is racing away from the supernova remnant where it was born at a speed between 2.5 million and 5 million miles per hour. This supersonic pace makes this pulsar - called IGR J1104-6103 -- one of the fastest moving pulsars ever observed. And what's more is that this runaway pulsar is leaving behind an extraordinary tail behind it as it goes. This tail is about 37 light years in length, making it the longest X-ray jet ever seen from an object in the Milky Way galaxy. New data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory have been combined with radio data from the Australia Telescope Compact Array to provide astronomers with a more complete picture of what's happening in this system. For example, these data show that the tail has a distinct corkscrew shape. This suggests that the pulsar is wobbling like a top as it spins. IGR J1104-6103 is located about 60 light years away from the center of the supernova remnant SNR MSH 11-61A, which is where astronomers think the pulsar was originally created. By examining the details of the pulsar, its jet, and the supernova remnant, astronomers are piecing together the story of this exceptional object in our Galaxy.
[Runtime: 01:54]
(NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)

Related Chandra Images:

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9. Tour of M51
QuicktimeMPEG Audio Only The galaxy Messier 51 is perhaps better known by its nickname, the "Whirlpool Galaxy." Like the Milky Way, the Whirlpool is a spiral galaxy with spectacular arms of stars and dust. M51 is located about 30 million light years from Earth, and its face-on orientation to Earth gives us a perspective that we can never get of our own spiral galactic home. By studying the Whirlpool in X-ray light, astronomers can reveal things that would otherwise be invisible in other wavelengths. For example, nearly a million seconds of observing time from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory were used to create this new image. These data reveal over 400 X-ray sources within the galaxy. Most of these are so-called X-ray binary systems, in which a neutron star or black hole is in orbit with a star like our Sun. Understanding where these systems are, how they behave over time, and their role in the evolution of the galaxy in important is helping learn us more about other galaxies including our own.
[Runtime: 01:22]
(NASA/CXC/April Jubett)

Related Chandra Images:

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10. Tour of M82 SN2014J
QuicktimeMPEG Audio Only Earlier this year, astronomers discovered one of the closest supernovas in decades. Now, new data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory has provided information on the environment of the star before it exploded, and insight into the possible cause of the explosion. On January 21, 2014, astronomers witnessed a supernova just days after it went off in the Messier 82, or M82, galaxy. Telescopes across the globe and in space turned their attention to study this newly exploded star. Astronomers quickly determined this supernova, dubbed SN 2014J, belongs to a class of explosions called "Type Ia" supernovas. These supernovas are used as cosmic distance-markers and played a key role in the discovery of the Universe's accelerated expansion, which has been attributed to the effects of dark energy.

While astronomers agree that Type Ia supernovas occur when a white dwarf star explodes, they are not sure exactly how this happens. For example, do these supernovas go off when the white dwarf pulls too much material from a companion star like the Sun, or when two white dwarf stars merge? Researchers used Chandra to look for clues. They took observations with Chandra about three weeks after 2014J and compared it with Chandra data taken prior to the explosion. They found, well, nothing.

Although it may sound counterintuitive, this non-detection of X-rays actually told astronomers quite a bit. Specifically, it showed that the environment around the star was relatively free of material before it exploded. This means that it's very unlikely that a messy transfer of material between the white dwarf and a companion star took place. Rather, whatever caused SN 2014J to explode cleared out the space around the star beforehand. This helps astronomers narrow down the possibilities and get closer to the answer of just what caused SN 2014J.
[Runtime: 03:16]
(NASA/CXC/April Jubett)

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