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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 Zwicky 8338
QuicktimeMPEG Audio Only With closed-captions (at YouTube)

An extraordinary ribbon of hot gas trailing behind a galaxy like a tail has been discovered using data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory. This ribbon, or X-ray tail, is likely due to gas stripped from the galaxy as it moves through a vast cloud of hot intergalactic gas. With a length of at least 250,000 light years, it is likely the largest such tail ever detected.

The tail is located in the galaxy cluster Zwicky 8338, which is almost 700 million light years from Earth. The length of the tail is more than twice the diameter of the entire Milky Way galaxy and contains gas with temperatures of about 10 million degrees.

Galaxy clusters are the largest structures in the Universe held together by gravity. They consist of hundreds, or even thousands, of galaxies, enormous pools of hot gas, and vast amounts of unseen dark matter. Since galaxy clusters are so enormous, they play a critical role inunderstanding how our Universe evolves. X-ray tails like the one in Zwicky 8338 show how the galaxies within a cluster can transform over time. This gives scientists important information in understanding these critical cosmic systems.
[Runtime: 02:19]
(NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)

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2. Tour of 3 Quasars
QuicktimeMPEG Audio Only With closed-captions (at YouTube)

A group of unusual giant black holes may be consuming excessive amounts of matter, according to a new study using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory. This finding may help astronomers understand how the largest black holes were able to grow so rapidly in the early Universe.

Astronomers have known for some time that supermassive black holes - with masses ranging from millions to billions of times the mass of the Sun and residing at the centers of galaxies - can gobble up huge quantities of gas and dust that have fallen into their gravitational pull. As the matter falls towards these black holes, it glows with such brilliance that they can be seen billions of light years away. Astronomers call these extremely ravenous black holes "quasars."

This new result suggests that some quasars are even more adept at devouring material than previously thought, about five to ten times the rate of typical quasars. A team of astronomers examined data from Chandra for 51 quasars that are located at a distance between about 5 billion and 11.5 billion light years from Earth. Based on their findings, the researchers think some of these quasars contain black holes that are surrounded by a thick, donut-shaped disk of material. This torus would block much of the light - including X-rays and ultraviolet light -- that would otherwise be observed by Chandra and other telescopes. The important implication for these thick-disk quasars is that they may be harboring black holes that are growing an extraordinarily rapid rate.
[Runtime: 01:53]
(NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)

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3. Tour of Abell 1033
QuicktimeMPEG Audio Only With closed-captions (at YouTube)

Galaxy clusters are the largest structures in the Universe held together by gravity. They consist of huge reservoirs of hot gas that glow in X-ray light as well as hundreds or even thousands of individual galaxies, plus unseen dark matter. Understanding how clusters grow is critical to tracking how the Universe itself evolves over time.

A new result involving the system named Abell 1033 is providing another piece to this astronomical puzzle. Located about 1.6 billion light years from Earth, Abell 1033 is the site of the collision of two galaxy clusters. By combining X-ray data from Chandra along with radio and optical data, astronomers have found evidence that Abell 1033 is what is called a "radio phoenix." What does this mean? Astronomers think a supermassive black hole close to the center of Abell 1033 underwent an eruption in the past. Streams of high-energy electrons filled a region hundreds of thousands of light years across and produced a cloud of bright radio emission. This cloud faded over a period of millions of years as the electrons lost energy and the cloud expanded.

The radio phoenix emerged when another cluster of galaxies slammed into the original cluster, sending shock waves through the system. These shock waves, similar to sonic booms produced by supersonic jets, passed through the dormant cloud of electrons. The shock waves compressed the cloud and re-energized the electrons, which caused the cloud to once again shine at radio frequencies. Just as the phoenix rises from its ashes in the stories of mythology, so too does it appear Abell 1033 has undergone an amazing rebirth.
[Runtime: 02:06]
(NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)

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4. Tour of Abell 2597
QuicktimeMPEG Audio Only With closed-captions (at YouTube)

Astronomers have known for quite some time that supermassive black holes influence the growth of galaxies they live in, but they have been trying to figure out exactly how. A new study of over 200 galaxy clusters using data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory is an important step in that direction. Researchers used Chandra to look at some of the largest known galaxies lying in the middle of galaxy clusters. These galaxies are embedded in enormous atmospheres of hot gas. This hot gas should cool and many stars should then form. However, observations show that something is hindering the star birth. The latest study suggests that a phenomenon referred to as cosmic precipitation may be playing a critical role. Cosmic precipitation is not rain, sleet, or snow. Rather, it is a mechanism that allows hot gas to produce showers of cool gas clouds that fall into a galaxy. Some of these clouds form stars, but others rain onto the supermassive black hole, triggering jets of energetic particles that push against the falling gas and reheat it. This prevents more stars from forming. This cycle of cooling and heating creates a feedback loop that regulates the growth of the galaxies. Future studies will test whether this precipitation-black hole feedback process also regulates star formation in smaller galaxies, including our own Milky Way galaxy.
[Runtime: 01:56]
(NASA/CXC/April Jubett)

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5. Tour of ASASSN-14li
QuicktimeMPEG Audio Only With closed-captions (at YouTube)

When something, like a star or a planet, wanders too close to a black hole, it's usually not good news for that object. The gravitational forces of the black hole can tear apart the star or planet, creating a debris field, much of which will ultimately circle toward the black hole and pass beyond its point of no return. Astronomers call these events "tidal disruptions".

In recent years, astronomers have found evidence for multiple different cases for tidal disruption around various black holes. A newly discovered tidal disruption, however, is providing scientists with new details about exactly what happens when a black hole rips apart a star. This event, called ASASSN-14li, occurred in a galaxy about 290 million light years from Earth. This makes this the closest tidal disruption to Earth in a decade.
[Runtime: 01:02]
(NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)

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6. Tour of Delta Orionis
QuicktimeMPEG Audio Only With closed-captions (at YouTube)

One of the most recognizable constellations in the sky is Orion, the Hunter. Among Orion's best-known features is the "belt," consisting of three bright stars in a line, each of which can be seen without a telescope. The westernmost star in Orion's belt is known officially as Delta Orionis. (Since it has been observed for centuries by sky-watchers around the world, it also goes by many other names in various cultures, like "Mintaka".) Modern astronomers know that Delta Orionis is not simply one single star, but rather it is a complex multiple star system.

Delta Orionis is, in fact, a small stellar group with three components and five stars in total. Two of the stars are single stars and may give off small amounts of X-rays. The third component on the other hand, has been detected as a strong X-ray source. Today, astronomers know that this component, called Delta Orionis A, is itself a triple star system.

In Delta Orionis A, two closely separated stars orbit around each other every 5.7 days, while a third star orbits this pair with a period of over 400 years. The more massive, or primary, star in the closely-separated stellar pair weighs about 25 times the mass of the Sun. The less massive, or secondary star, weighs about ten times the mass of the Sun.

The chance alignment of this pair of stars allows one star to pass in front of the other during every orbit from the vantage point of Earth. This special class of star system is known as an "eclipsing binary," and it gives astronomers a direct way to measure the mass and size of the stars. By observing this eclipsing binary component of Delta Orionis A with NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory for the equivalent of nearly six days, a team of researchers gleaned important information about massive stars and how their winds play a role in their evolution and affect their surroundings.

Massive stars, although relatively rare, can have profound impacts on the galaxies they inhabit. These giant stars are so bright that their radiation blows powerful winds of stellar material away, affecting the chemical and physical properties of the gas in their host galaxies. These stellar winds also help determine the fate of the stars themselves, which will eventually explode as supernovas and leave behind a neutron star or black hole.
[Runtime: 03:46]
(NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)

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7. Tour of GK Persei
QuicktimeMPEG Audio Only With closed-captions (at YouTube)

In Hollywood blockbusters, explosions are often among the stars of the show. In space, explosions of actual stars are a focus for scientists who hope to better understand the lifecycle of their births, lives, and deaths. Using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, astronomers have studied one particular explosion that may provide clues to the dynamics of other, much larger stellar eruptions. A team of researchers pointed the telescope at GK Persei, an object that became a sensation in the astronomical world in 1901 when it suddenly appeared as one of the brightest stars in the sky for a few days, before gradually fading away. Today, astronomers cite GK Persei as an example of a "classical nova," an outburst produced by a thermonuclear explosion on the surface of a white dwarf star, the dense remnant of a Sun-like star. Classical novas can be considered to be “miniature” versions of supernova explosions that signal the destruction of an entire star and can be so bright that they outshine the whole galaxy where they are found. Although the remnants of supernovas are much more massive and energetic than classical novas, some of the fundamental physics is the same. And since classical novas can evolve much more quickly than supernovas, astronomers can use them to study how these explosions change over time. In the case of GK Persei, astronomers were able to compare Chandra observations from 2000 and again nearly 14 years later. This information allows astronomers to observe changes in key properties of the expanding debris field from the nova, giving more insight to how these explosions contribute to the cosmic ecology.
[Runtime: 02:01]
(NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)

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8. Tour of il Gioiello Cluster
QuicktimeMPEG Audio Only With closed-captions (at YouTube)

Galaxy clusters are the largest structures in the Universe held together by gravity. Because of their immense size, their growth and evolution tell us a lot about how the Universe itself has changed over time. A newly discovered galaxy cluster provides some intriguing clues. This galaxy cluster is officially known as XDCP J0044.0-2033. Perhaps not surprisingly, astronomers decided to give a nickname to this mouthful of a cluster name. Because this cluster has many colors in X-ray light due to its plentiful hot gas and star forming galaxies, astronomers dubbed this the “Gioiello” Cluster, which means “Jewel” in Italian. The Gioiello Cluster is located about 9.6 billion light years from Earth. Scientists think this cluster formed approximately 3.3 billion years after the Big Bang. This means that the Gioiello Cluster is a mere 800 million years old as we observe it. A long observation from Chandra, totally over four days worth of observing time, provided astronomers with enough information to accurately determine the mass and other properties of the cluster. They found the Gioiello Cluster tops out at a whopping 400 trillion times the mass of the Sun. The discoveries of the Gioiello Cluster and others like it are helping astronomers better understand how galaxy clusters have developed over the lifetime of the Universe.
[Runtime: 01:56]
(NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)

Related Chandra Images:

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9. Tour of NGC 1333
QuicktimeMPEG Audio Only With closed-captions (at YouTube)

While fireworks only last a short time here on Earth, a bundle of cosmic sparklers in a nearby cluster of stars will be going off for a very long time. NGC 1333 is a star cluster populated with many young stars that are less than 2 million years old, a blink of an eye in astronomical terms for stars like the Sun that are expected to burn for billions of years.

A new composite image combines X-rays from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory with infrared data from the Spitzer Space Telescope as well as optical data from telescopes on the ground: the Digitized Sky Survey and the National Optical Astronomical Observatories' Mayall 4-meter telescope on Kitt Peak.

What do X-rays from Chandra tell astronomers about NGC 1333? First, the Chandra data reveal 95 young stars glowing in X-ray light, 41 of which had not been identified before. Researchers also can use the X-ray data to learn about certain properties of the young stars in NGC 1333 and other clusters like it. By using the information from different telescopes that can detect different types of light, we can get a spectacular view of these beautiful cosmic fireworks.
[Runtime: 01:36]
(NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)

Related Chandra Images:

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10. Tour of NGC 5813
QuicktimeMPEG Audio Only With closed-captions (at YouTube)

Galaxy groups are families of galaxies that are bound together by gravity. They are very similar to their larger cousins, galaxy clusters. Instead of containing hundreds or even thousands of galaxies like clusters do, galaxy groups are typically comprised of 50 or fewer galaxies. Like galaxy clusters, groups of galaxies are enveloped by giant amounts of hot gas that emit X-rays. They also often contain a giant black hole at their center that can impact what's happening throughout the group.

Astronomers used NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory to study this in the galaxy group NGC 5813, which is located about 105 million light years from Earth. They found three pairs of cavities, or bubbles, that have been carved into the hot gas. These cavities were produced by jets of material that blasted out of the central black hole, including multiple eruptions that lasted for some 50 million years. Similar to how air bubbles will rise to the surface of water, these cavities have moved away from the galaxy group's center toward the edge of the hot gas. By studying the details of these cavities, astronomers can get a better understanding of just how supermassive black holes affect their cosmic surroundings.
[Runtime: 01:35]
(NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)

Related Chandra Images: