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Normal & Starburst Galaxies
X-ray Astronomy Field Guide
Normal & Starburst Galaxies
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Normal & Starburst Galaxies
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Normal & Starburst Galaxies
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1. Tour of SPT 0346-52
QuicktimeMPEG Audio Only Astronomers have used NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and other telescopes to show that a very distant galaxy is undergoing an extraordinary boom of stellar construction. The galaxy is 12.7 billion light years from Earth, which means it is at a critical stage in the evolution of galaxies about a billion years after the Big Bang.

After astronomers discovered the galaxy, known as SPT 0346-52, with the South Pole Telescope, they observed it with several space and other ground-based telescopes. Data from the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array revealed this galaxy was giving off tremendous amounts of infrared light.

This excess infrared light could be explaining by a huge burst of star formation. However, there was another possibility: What if the infrared emission was instead caused by a rapidly growing supermassive black hole at the galaxy's center? Gas falling towards the black hole would become much hotter and brighter, causing surrounding dust and gas to glow in infrared light.

To explore this possibility, researchers used Chandra and the Australia Telescope Compact Array, a radio telescope. If there was a massive, growing black hole in the middle of SPT0346-52, it should give off enough X-rays and radio waves for these telescopes to detect.

The result was that neither Chandra nor the Australia Telescope Compact Array saw emission coming from SPT0346-52. The absence of X-rays and radio waves let astronomers rule out a growing black hole being responsible for most of the bright infrared light.

Instead of this galaxy containing a gorging black hole, astronomers know it is shining brightly with the light from newborn stars. This gives scientists information about how galaxies and the stars within them evolve during some of the earliest times in the Universe.
[Runtime: 03:08]
(NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)

Related Chandra Images:

Click for high-resolution animation
2. A Tour of NGC 5195
QuicktimeMPEG Audio Only 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)

Related Chandra Images:

Click for high-resolution animation
3. Not Your Average Superhero
QuicktimeMPEG Audio Only A black hole is formed when a massive star is squashed into an incredibly tiny volume. (The equivalent of squeezing the Earth into the size of a marble!) Packing so much material in such a small space gives black holes a superpower: Incredibly strong gravity that can even swallow-up light forever if it gets too close!

Around the danger zone, before disappearing forever into the black hole, any nearby material is accelerated to very high speeds. This fast-moving material gives off X-rays, which astronomers can observe using special telescopes in space.

Of course, there should be a limit to even a superhero's powers. But in recent years, astronomers have discovered regions around black holes that are giving off a crazy amount of X-rays - a lot more than what should be possible. In the galaxy pictured above, which is called M83, astronomers have discovered such a weirdly powerful black hole.

Astronomers still don't fully understand what is making these black holes mega-powerful, but it could be that they are much heavier than normal black holes. A heavy black hole could pull in more material than a smaller black hole, which would make a lot more X-rays. Instead of being a few times heavier than the Sun, like normal black holes, the mega-powerful ones could be up to 100 times heavier!
[Runtime: 01:56]
(NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)

Related Chandra Images:
  • Photo Album: M83

Click for high-resolution animation
4. A Tour of NGC 2276
QuicktimeMPEG Audio Only For many years, astronomers have known about two distinct classes of black holes. The first is called stellar-mass black holes, containing between five and thirty times the mass of our Sun. The second well-known category of black is known as supermassive black holes. These black holes are giants found at the centers of galaxies, weighing millions or even billions of times the Sun's mass. What about black holes that fall in between? Astronomers have been trying to find and study these intermediate-mass black holes for many years. A newly discovered object in the galaxy NGC 2276 may be an important step in that direction. By combining X-rays from Chandra along with radio data, scientists determined that this object in one of the galaxy's spiral arms is about 50,000 times the mass of the Sun - a perfect fit for an intermediate-mass black hole. Astronomers also used these data to look at what kind of impact this source may be having on its surroundings. They found that this intermediate-mass black hole is producing a jet that appears to be squelching the formation of stars around it. Scientists will continue to study this and other intermediate-mass black holes to see how they fit into the larger picture of black holes, galaxies, and the Universe.
[Runtime: 01:50]
(NASA/CXC/April Jubett)

Related Chandra Images:

Click for high-resolution animation
5. The Most Attractive Stars in the Universe
QuicktimeMPEG Audio Only Have you ever played with magnets? You might have done an experiment where you lay a magnet onto a table and place an iron nail nearby. If you push the magnet slowly toward the nail, there will come a point when the nail jumps across and sticks to the magnet. That's because magnets have something invisible that extends all around them, called a 'magnetic field'. It can cause a pushing or pulling force on other objects, even if the magnet isn't actually touching them.

The most powerful magnets in the Universe are called magnetars. These are tiny, super-compact stars, 50 times more massive than our Sun, squashed into a ball just 20 kilometers across. (That's about the size of a small city!)

Astronomers think magnetars may be created when some massive stars die in a supernova explosion. The star's gases blow out into space creating a colourful cloud like the one in this picture, called Kes 73. At the same time, the core of the star squashes down to form a magnetar.

At the center of the cosmic cloud in this photograph lies a tiny magnetar. But what this star lacks in size it makes up for in energy, shooting out powerful jets of X-rays every few seconds! You can see the X-ray jets in blue in this photograph.
[Runtime: 02:04]
(NASA/CXC/April Jubett)

Related Chandra Images:

Click for high-resolution animation
6. A Tour of IYL 2015
QuicktimeMPEG Audio Only The year of 2015 has been declared the International Year of Light, or IYL for short, by the United Nations. Organizations, institutions, and individuals involved in the science and applications of light will be joining together for this year-long celebration to help spread the word about the wonders of light.

In many ways, astronomy uses the science of light. By building telescopes that can detect light in its many forms from radio waves on one end of the "electromagnetic spectrum" to gamma rays on the other, scientists can get a better understanding of the processes at work in the Universe.

NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory explores the Universe in X-rays, a high-energy form of light. By studying X-ray data and comparing them with observations in other types of light, scientists can develop a better understanding of objects that generate temperatures of millions of degrees and produce X-rays.

To recognize the start of IYL, the Chandra X-ray Center is releasing a collection of images that combine data from telescopes tuned to different wavelengths of light. From a distant galaxy to the relatively nearby debris field of an exploded star, these images demonstrate the myriad ways that information about the Universe is communicated to us through light.

So join us in celebrating IYL and all of the amazing things that light can do, including how it helps us understand the Universe we live in.
[Runtime: 01:58]
(NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)

Related Chandra Images:

Click for high-resolution animation
7. Tour of NGC 2207 and IC 2163
QuicktimeMPEG Audio Only At this time of year, there are lots of gatherings often decorated with festive lights. When galaxies get together, there is also the chance of a spectacular light show. Take, for example, NGC 2207 and IC 2163. Located about 130 million light years from Earth in the constellation of Canis Major in the southern hemisphere, this pair of spiral galaxies is caught in a grazing encounter. This system has hosted three supernova explosions in the past 15 years, which is quite a few in such a short time.

This galactic pair has also produced one of the most bountiful collections of super bright X-ray lights known. These special objects - officially known as "ultraluminous X-ray sources" or ULXs - have been found using data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory. As in our Milky Way galaxy, NGC 2207 and IC 2163 are sprinkled with many systems known as X-ray binaries, which consist of a star in a tight orbit around either a neutron star or a "stellar-mass" black hole. The strong gravity of the neutron star or black hole pulls matter from the companion star. As this matter falls toward the neutron star or black hole, it is heated to millions of degrees and generates X-rays. ULXs are far brighter in X-rays than most "normal" X-ray binaries. While the true nature of ULXs is still debated, they are likely an unusual type of X-ray binary. For example, some astronomers think that the black holes in some ULXs may be heavier than stellar mass black holes and could represent a hypothesized, but as yet unconfirmed, intermediate-mass category of black holes. Regardless of what they are, ULXs put on intriguing X-ray light displays no matter what the season.
[Runtime: 02:14]
(NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)

Related Chandra Images:

Click for high-resolution animation
8. Chandra's Archives Come to Life
QuicktimeMPEG Audio Only Every year, NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory looks at hundreds of objects throughout space to help expand our understanding of the Universe. Ultimately, these data are stored in the Chandra Data Archive, an electronic repository that provides access to these unique X-ray findings for anyone who would like to explore them. With the passing of Chandra's 15th anniversary, in operation since August 26, 1999, the archive continues to grow as each successive year adds to the enormous and invaluable dataset.

To celebrate Chandra's decade and a half in space, and to honor October as American Archive Month, a variety of objects have been selected from Chandra's archive. Each of the new images we have produced combines Chandra data with those from other telescopes. This technique of creating "multiwavelength" images allows scientists and the public to see how X-rays fit with data of other types of light, such as optical, radio, and infrared. As scientists continue to make new discoveries with the telescope, the burgeoning archive will allow us to see the high-energy Universe as only Chandra can.
[Runtime: 01:27]
(NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)

Related Chandra Images:

Click for high-resolution animation
9. Tour of M82X-2
QuicktimeMPEG Audio Only Ultraluminous X-ray Sources, or ULXs, are unusual objects. They are rare and, as their name implies, give off enormous amounts of X-rays. Until now, astronomers thought that ULXs were powered by a system where a stellar mass black hole was in orbit around a neutron star or black hole. However, a study using data from NASA's NuSTAR and Chandra X-ray Observatory shows that this class of objects is more diverse than that. With NuSTAR, astronomers discovered regular variations, or pulsations, coming from a small region in the center of the galaxy M82, which is located about 11.4 million light years from Earth. The researchers then used Chandra, with its exceptionally keen vision in X-ray light, to pinpoint exactly which source was giving off these pulsations. This source is called M82X-2. It's hard to explain how a system with a black hole could generate the pulsations seen by NuSTAR. Because of this and other data, astronomers think that M82X-2 is the brightest pulsar ever seen. Pulsars are rapidly spinning neutron stars that sweep beams of radiation out like a lighthouse, and this is what would explain the pulsations of X-ray light seen in M82X-2. ULXs just became a little more unusual and intriguing to study.
[Runtime: 01:43]
(NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)

Related Chandra Images:

Click for high-resolution animation
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)

Related Chandra Images:

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