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Recent Podcast
A Quick Look at W51
A Quick Look at W51
Because of its relative proximity, the giant molecular cloud W51 provides astronomers with an excellent opportunity to study how stars are forming in our Milky Way galaxy. (2017-07-12)
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Animations & Video: Featured Image Tours
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1. A Tour of NGC 5195
QuicktimeMPEG Audio Only With closed-captions (at YouTube)

Astronomers using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory have discovered evidence for powerful blasts produced by a giant black hole. This is the nearest supermassive black hole to Earth that is currently undergoing such violent outbursts. The researchers found this behavior in the famous Messier 51 system of galaxies, which is located about 26 million light years from Earth. This system contains a large spiral galaxy, NGC 5194 (a.k.a. "The Whirlpool"), merging with a smaller companion galaxy, NGC 5195, where these outbursts are occurring.

A team of astronomers found a pair of arcs in the X-ray data, which they interpret to be the artifacts of two enormous blasts from the supermassive black hole at the center of NGC 5195 that happened millions of years ago. Scientists think that in the early Universe black holes would have had these kinds of outbursts quite often, impacting the evolution of galaxies they inhabited. What makes this new discovery from Chandra important is that the outbursts in NGC 5195 are so nearby, astronomically speaking. This allows astronomers to have a rare close-up look at this behavior. Astronomers will continue to study systems like NGC 5195 to better understand how black holes and galaxies affect one another.
[Runtime: 02:22]
(NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)

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2. A Tour of Pictor A
QuicktimeMPEG Audio Only With closed-captions (at YouTube)

The Star Wars franchise has featured the fictitious "Death Star," which can shoot powerful beams of radiation across space. The Universe, however, produces phenomena that often surpass what science fiction can conjure.

The Pictor A galaxy is one such impressive object. This galaxy, located nearly 500 million light years from Earth, contains a supermassive black hole at its center. Material falling onto the black hole is driving an enormous beam, or jet, of particles at nearly the speed of light into intergalactic space. Even though it is hundreds of thousands of light years away, the jet in Pictor A is actually the closest one to Earth that displays continuous X-ray emission over a distance of 300,000 light years.

Scientists used NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory at various times over 15 years to obtain data on this impressive system. They combined these X-ray data from Chandra with radio waves from the Australia Telescope Compact Array to try to gain a deeper understanding of these huge collimated blasts.

The researchers determined that the X-ray emission in the Pictor A jet likely comes from electrons spiraling around magnetic field lines -- a process called synchrotron emission. In this case, the electrons must be continuously re-accelerated as they move out along the jet. While they think that's probably what's going on, astronomers do not know exactly how this process happens. Yet another ongoing mystery in a galaxy far, far away.
[Runtime: 02:34]
(NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)

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3. Tour of B3 0727+409
QuicktimeMPEG Audio Only With closed-captions (at YouTube)

Astronomers have used NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory to discover a jet from a very distant supermassive black hole being illuminated by the oldest light in the Universe. This discovery shows that black holes with powerful jets may be more common than previously thought in the first few billion years after the Big Bang.

The light detected from this jet, found in the system known as B3 0727+409, was emitted when the Universe was only 2.7 billion years old, or a fifth of its present age. At this point, the intensity of the cosmic microwave background radiation, the glow left over from the Big Bang, was much greater than it is today.

The significance of the discovery of an X-ray jet in B3 0727+409 is heightened because astronomers essentially stumbled across this jet while observing a galaxy cluster in the field. Historically, such distant jets have been discovered in radio waves first, and then followed up with X-ray observations to look for high-energy emission. If bright X-ray jets can exist with very faint or undetected radio counterparts, it means that there could be many more of them out there because astronomers haven't been systematically looking for them.

Jets in the early Universe such as B3 0727+409 give astronomers a way to probe the growth of black holes at a very early epoch in the cosmos.
[Runtime: 02:25]
(NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)

Related Chandra Images:

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4. Tour of Black Hole Seeds
QuicktimeMPEG Audio Only With closed-captions (at YouTube)

Astronomers have long tried to determine just how supermassive black holes, those with millions or even billions of times the mass of the Sun in the centers of nearly all large galaxies, first formed. A conundrum arises because some of these supermassive black holes have been found less than a billion years after the Big Bang. How could such giant objects have formed so quickly?

New research using data from three of NASA's Great Observatories - Hubble, Chandra, and Spitzer - may help answer this important question. By developing a sophisticated computer model and new techniques to search large databases, a team of astronomers came up with a novel way to look for some of the Universe's earliest supermassive black holes. Their method targeted objects that matched the properties of one proposed mechanism to form these black holes: direct collapse. In this scenario, supermassive black holes would have formed directly from the collapse of a cloud of gas, producing a black hole of about 10,000 times the mass of the Sun. There is a competing theory where a massive star collapses to produce a black hole of about 10 solar masses, which then packs on weight very quickly to get up to supermassive size.

The new results suggest that at least some of the supermassive black holes in the early Universe formed through this direct collapse method. If these findings are confirmed with other research, it could help astronomers understand how black holes were formed billions of years ago and give more insight into the early Universe itself.
[Runtime: 02:38]
(NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)

Related Chandra Images:

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5. Tour of CL J1001
QuicktimeMPEG Audio Only With closed-captions (at YouTube)

Galaxy clusters are incredibly important objects in the Universe since they are the largest objects in the Universe held together by gravity. Many galaxy clusters contain hundreds or even thousands of galaxies, enormous amounts of hot gas, and giant reservoirs of dark matter. For as much as they already know about galaxy clusters, astronomers are still seeking to learn more. This includes learning about how galaxy clusters first formed in the early Universe.

A new discovery by a team of researchers may represent an important step in that direction. Using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and several other telescopes on the ground and in space, researchers recently found a galaxy cluster that is about 11.1 billion light years from Earth. In addition to its remarkable distance, this cluster, known as CL J1001+0220, also displays some intriguing qualities. For example, astronomers find that the core of this cluster is ablaze with star formation. This is quite different from other galaxy clusters observed by astronomers, where star formation rates are very low. It may be that this galaxy cluster represents a brief, but important, stage of the evolution where a cluster transitions from a still-forming cluster into a mature one. Astronomers hope that they will learn a lot about the formation of clusters and the galaxies they contain by studying this object.
[Runtime: 02:19]
(NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)

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6. Tour of Comets ISON & PanSTARRS
QuicktimeMPEG Audio Only With closed-captions (at YouTube)

People on Earth have been watching comets in the sky for many thousands of years. Although many ancient cultures saw comets as signs of impending danger, today scientists know that comets are really frozen balls of dust, gas, and rock. They may have been responsible for delivering water to planets like Earth billions of years ago.

It may surprise people to hear that comets can provide information about other aspects of our Solar System. In particular, comets can be used as laboratories to study the behavior of the stream of particles flowing away from the Sun, known as the solar wind.

Recently, astronomers have performed such a study using observations with Chandra of two comets, named ISON and PanSTARRS. Chandra observed these two comets in 2013 when both were relatively close to Earth.

Scientists know that comets produce X-ray emission when particles in the solar wind strike the atmosphere of the comet. The Chandra data allowed scientists to estimate the amount of elements like carbon and nitrogen in the solar wind. They found values that agree with those from other missions, showing the value of X-ray observations for deriving the composition of the solar wind.
[Runtime: 02:21]
(NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)

Related Chandra Images:

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7. Tour of Cyg X-3's Little Friend
QuicktimeMPEG Audio Only With closed-captions (at YouTube)

The story of how stars are born and eventually die can be a complicated one. After all, the life and death of stars is determined by many factors including its mass and environment. Take, for example, Cygnus X-3. For decades, astronomers have studied this object and determined that it is a so-called X-ray binary. This means that it is, in fact, a pair of objects. One of the objects is a compact source - either a neutron star or black hole that was produced by the death of a massive star - that is pulling material away from the other object, a living companion star.

In 2003, astronomers noticed something else when observing Cygnus X-3 with Chandra. They saw another source very close to Cygnus X-3 on the sky. Thanks to Chandra's unparalleled X-ray vision, they were able to resolve this source even though it was a mere 16 arcseconds away on the sky. To put it another way, the separation of Cygnus X-3 and this new source is equivalent to the width of a penny about 800 feet away. Astronomers nicknamed this new object the "Little Friend."

Recently, a team of astronomers has combined Chandra data with radio data from the Submillimeter Array to learn more about both Cygnus X-3 and the Little Friend. They determined that the Little Friend is a Bok globule, which is a small, dense, very cold cloud. The radio data shows that the Little Friend is producing jets, indicating that a new star is forming inside. This unusual configuration of an X-ray binary so close to a Bok globule provides astronomers with a new way of studying how stars - or at least some of them - form.
[Runtime: 02:54]
(NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)

Related Chandra Images:

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8. Tour of Frontier Fields
QuicktimeMPEG Audio Only With closed-captions (at YouTube)

Galaxy clusters are enormous collections of hundreds or even thousands of galaxies and vast reservoirs of hot gas embedded in massive clouds of dark matter. These cosmic giants are not merely novelties of size or girth. Instead, they represent pathways to understanding how our entire universe evolved in the past and where it may be heading in the future.

To learn more about galaxy clusters, including how they grow via collisions, astronomers have collected large quantities of data from some of the world's most powerful telescopes. They have used telescopes that detect different kinds of light to study a half dozen galaxy clusters in depth. The name for this galaxy cluster project is the "Frontier Fields".

Two of these Frontier Fields galaxy clusters, going by their abbreviated names, are MACS J0416 and MACS J0717. Located about 4.3 billion light years from Earth, MACS J0416 is a pair of colliding galaxy clusters that will eventually combine to form an even bigger cluster. MACS J0717, one of the most complex and distorted galaxy clusters known, is the site of a collision between four clusters. It is located about 5.4 billion light years away from Earth.

In the new Frontier Fields studies, astronomers combined data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and Hubble Space Telescope along with information in radio waves from the NSF's Very Large Array and the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope in India. They have found new details about both of these complex and colliding systems. Astronomers will continue to analyze the vast amounts of data from the Frontier Fields, which will help them learn more about these gigantic and important objects.
[Runtime: 03:03]
(NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)

Related Chandra Images:

Click for high-resolution animation
9. Tour of G1.9+0.3
QuicktimeMPEG Audio Only With closed-captions (at YouTube)

A little more than a century ago, as seen from the Earth, a star exploded near the center of the Milky Way galaxy. Astronomers think that this object represents one of the last stars to undergo a supernova explosion in our Galaxy. Today, the object is known as G1.9+0.3. In addition to its relative timeliness, G1.9+0.3 is also of interest to astronomers because it belongs to a special subset of supernovas called Type Ias. These are important supernovas because astronomers think they explode with a consistent brightness, which allows them to be used as cosmic distance markers. Type Ia supernovas were used to determine that the expansion of the Universe was accelerating.

As important as these objects are, astronomers are still unsure exactly what causes them. There is a consensus that Type Ias occur when a white dwarf undergoes a thermonuclear explosion, but what triggers that detonation? The two main candidates are either the accumulation of material on a white dwarf's surface from a companion star, or the merger of two white dwarfs.

A new study using X-ray data from Chandra and radio data from the Very Large Array reveals that at least one Type Ia was caused by the merger of two white dwarfs. This supernova left behind the remnant called G1.9+0.3. The researchers determined this by examining how the blast wave from the explosion interacts with the material surrounding the doomed star. Clues from this interaction led them to conclude that a white dwarf merger was responsible for this particular stellar explosion. While this doesn't mean that all Type Ia supernovas are caused by white dwarf mergers, it does imply that at least some of them are. It's important to determine exactly what the trigger mechanism or mechanisms for Type Ias are, since that could affect how they are used in the critical measurements of vast distances across the Universe.
[Runtime: 03:33]
(NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)

Related Chandra Images:

Click for high-resolution animation
10. Tour of G11.2-0.3
QuicktimeMPEG Audio Only With closed-captions (at YouTube)

While they may sound like very different and distinct fields, astronomy and history can intersect in very interesting and important ways. Take, for example, historical supernovas and their remnants. These are objects that astronomers observe today and that can also be linked to recordings in previous centuries or even millennia. Being able to tie a credible historical event with a supernova remnant observed today provides crucial information about these explosive stellar events.

Until now, the supernova remnant G11.2-0.3 was considered one of these historical supernova remnants. Previous studies have suggested that G11.2-0.3 was created in a supernova that was witnessed by Chinese astronomers in 386 CE. New Chandra data, however, of this circle shaped debris field, indicate that is not the case. The latest information from Chandra reveals that there are dense clouds of gas that lie between Earth and the supernova remnant. Therefore, it is not possible that much optical light from the supernova - the kind of light humans can see - would have penetrated the clouds and been visible with the naked eye at Earth. While it may no longer be a historical supernova remnant, G11.2-0.3 remains an intriguing and beautiful object that astronomers will continue to study.
[Runtime: 02:19]
(NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)

Related Chandra Images: