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Normal & Starburst Galaxies
X-ray Astronomy Field Guide
Normal & Starburst Galaxies
Questions and Answers
Normal & Starburst Galaxies
Chandra Images
Normal & Starburst Galaxies
Animations & Video: Normal Galaxies & Starburst Galaxies
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Click for high-resolution animation
1. X-rays Uncover Black Holes Dancing With Normal Stars
QuicktimeMPEG Audio Only Most of the stars in the Milky Way galaxy are not like our Sun, floating through space alone. A whopping 8-out-of-10 of them have one or more companion stars. A pair or stars orbiting each other is called a "binary system".

This photograph shows the flamboyant spiral galaxy called Messier 51. Each point of vivid purple light we are seeing glittering in this picture represents a special type of binary system. We call them 'X-ray binaries' because they are pairs of stars shining in X-ray light.

Each X-ray binary is made up of a normal star and a star which has passed beyond the end of its life. These companions are exotic things, most commonly a neutron star, but sometimes, a black hole.

If the stars are close enough together, the strong gravity of the exotic companion can drag gas off the normal star into a ring itself, before gobbling it up. When this happens the material is heated to over a million degrees and begins shining light as X-rays. And the stronger the gravity, the brighter the X-rays.

This picture of Messier 51 has revealed that at least ten of the X-ray binaries in the galaxy are bright enough that they probably contain black holes. In eight of these pairs the black holes are pulling material away from gigantic companion stars that are much more massive than the Sun!
[Runtime: 02:00]
(NASA/CXC/April Jubett)

Related Chandra Images:

Click for high-resolution animation
2. A Deeper Look at M51
QuicktimeMPEG Like the Milky Way, the Whirlpool is a spiral galaxy with spectacular arms of stars and dust. M51 is located about 25 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: 00:50]
(NASA/CXC)

Related Chandra Images:

Click for high-resolution animation
3. 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:

Click for high-resolution animation
4. Galaxy Hits a Cosmic Bullseye
QuicktimeMPEG Audio Only The Universe is vast and largely made up of empty space, but cosmic collisions still happen pretty often. Take the galaxy in this picture: it looks like a giant target board, and some 300 million years ago, a smaller galaxy scored a cosmic bullseye when it crashed right into the center of it.

This galaxy began its life as a spiral galaxy. It had several long winding 'arms' of stars and dust wrapped around its center, like the galaxy in this picture . But the impact of the smaller galaxy disturbed the tidy lanes of stars and the neat galactic center and warped the galaxy into this sloppy ring. You can see that the bright, gassy center of the galaxy has been pushed to one side and the spiral arms have been twisted into a chaotic mess. What is left of one of the spiral arms can be seen extending upwards, out of the top of the galaxy.

The collision also set off a ripple effect, like when you throw a pebble into a still lake. The disturbed gases throughout the galaxy triggered a chain reaction of star formation. Hundreds of enormous new stars were born. You can see these as bright red regions in the image.
[Runtime: 01:39]
(NASA/CXC/April Jubett)

Related Chandra Images:

Click for high-resolution animation
5. 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)

Related Chandra Images:

Click for high-resolution animation
6. I Can See Your Halo
QuicktimeMPEG Audio Only The Universe is enormous and full of empty space. Light from the nearest star outside our solar system has to travel through empty black space for 4.2 years before it reaches our eyes, even though light moves faster than anything else in the Universe and we live in a very densely populated region of space! Yet somehow, despite all this empty space, galaxies crashing into each other is a fairly common sight. One such collision has been caught in this cosmic picture; which shows the enormous cloud of hot gas surrounding two large colliding galaxies called NGC 6240.

The two large spiral galaxies seen in this picture are similar in size and shape to our home galaxy, the Milky Way. Both galaxies are believed to be harbouring supermassive black holes at their centres, which are spiralling towards each other as we speak. It's likely that they will eventually merge together to form an even bigger black hole!

Another consequence of this pile up is the birth of millions of new stars in a 'stellarbaby boom' that has lasted over 200 million years! This was caused by the violent collision, which stirred up the gases in each galaxy. The baby boom resulted in the birth of many stars much more massive than the Sun. These then ended their lives in powerful supernova explosions, pumping material into the enormous gas cloud: a 'halo' of hot gas, which can be seen in this picture. And it contains enough material to make 10 billion Suns!
[Runtime: 02:01]
(NASA/CXC/April Jubett)

Related Chandra Images:

Click for high-resolution animation
7. A Colossal Cosmic Crash
QuicktimeMPEG Audio Only If the majestic pinwheel structure of this galaxy wasn't beautiful enough, the pink halo gives this photograph a magical finish. Yet, what we're actually seeing here is pretty violent. In this picture, a galactic collision is taking place between the grand spiral galaxy and the tiny dwarf galaxy that you can see to its left. The pink mist is actually a huge cloud of gas, burning at millions of degrees Celsius, which forms when these galaxies clash! This cloud is mostly invisible to our eyes but the gas shines brightly with high-energy X-ray light at extremely high temperatures.

Near the "head" of this comet-shaped fog, you can see an area with a group of very bright stars. The energy of the crash may have caused a boom of star formation here. Powerful explosions from dying stars and cosmic gale-force winds coming from hot, bright stars help keep the cloud shining brightly with X-rays.

As for how big this cloud is, it's difficult to measure. We struggle to determine the shape of distant cosmic objects. We only have flat, 2-dimensional images to work with and it's not like we can fly behind them to take a look! Is this pink mist thin and shaped like a pancake? Or is it thicker, like a fat rain cloud? Until we know the shape, we can't be sure just how big it is. If it is thin like a pancake then it will have 40,000 times the mass of our Sun. If it is more spherical, it would be more like 3 million times as massive as our Sun!
[Runtime: 02:07]
(NASA/CXC/April Jubett)

Related Chandra Images:

Click for high-resolution animation
8. Tour of M60-UCD1
QuicktimeMPEG Audio Only Astronomers may have discovered the densest galaxy in the nearby Universe. The galaxy, known as M60-UCD1, is located about 54 million light years from Earth. M60-UCD1 is packed with an extraordinary number of stars and this has led scientists to classify it as an "ultra-compact dwarf galaxy." This means that this galaxy is smaller and has more stars than just a regular dwarf galaxy. While astronomers already knew this, it wasn't until these latest results from Chandra, Hubble and telescopes on the ground that they knew just how dense this galaxy truly is. M60-UCD1 has the mass about 200 million times our Sun and, remarkably, about half of this mass is packed into a radius of just about 80 light years. That translates into the density of stars in this part of M60-UCD1 being about 15,000 times greater than what's found in Earth's neighborhood in the Milky Way. Astronomers have been trying to determine where these ultra-compact dwarf galaxies fit into the galactic evolutionary chain. Some have suggested they start off not as galaxies but as giant star clusters. The latest results on M60-UCD1 challenge that idea. The new Chandra data indicate that there may be a supermassive black hole at the center of M60-UCD1. If that's the case, then it's unlikely this object could have ever been a star cluster. Instead, the X-ray data point to this galaxy being the remnants of a larger galaxy that had its outer stars ripped away by tidal forces, leaving behind the dense inner core of the galaxy. Other information about M60-UCD1 including its large mass, point to the same conclusion. Regardless, this galaxy is a fascinating object that astronomers will be studying for a long time to come.
[Runtime: 02:12]
(NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)

Related Chandra Images:

Click for high-resolution animation
9. Tour of NGC 1232
QuicktimeMPEG Audio Only Throughout the Universe, galaxies collide. Yet despite being a relatively common occurrence, astronomers are still trying to learn more about the details of what happens when these events take place. A new study using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory adds a new piece to this cosmic puzzle. The latest result from Chandra reveals a massive cloud of scorching gas in a galaxy about 60 million light years from Earth. The hot gas cloud - which has a temperature of about 6 million degrees -- is likely caused by a collision between a dwarf galaxy and a much larger galaxy called NGC 1232. If further research confirms that this indeed the case, this discovery would mark the first time such a collision has been detected only in X-rays. And, because it might be an effective way to search for similar collisions, this result could have implications for understanding how other galaxies grow.
[Runtime: 01:05]
(NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)

Related Chandra Images:

Click for high-resolution animation
10. Tour of M31
QuicktimeMPEG Audio Only Many consider Andromeda, also known as Messier 31, to be a sister galaxy to our own Milky Way. At a distance of only 2.5 million light years away, Andromeda is relatively close to our Galaxy. It is also a spiral galaxy like the Milky Way, and has many similar characteristics. However, a new study using data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory has pointed out some interesting differences between these two galaxies when it comes to black holes. After combining over 150 Chandra observations spread over 13 years, researchers discovered 26 new black hole candidates in Andromeda. This is largest number to date found in a galaxy outside our own. Falling into the stellar-mass category, these black holes form when the most massive stars collapse. The result is a black hole that typically has between five and ten times the mass of the Sun. Seven of these black hole candidates are within 1,000 light years of Andromeda's center, more than what is found near the center of our Milky Way's core. This highlights that although Andromeda and the Milky Way are alike in many ways, they do have their differences. Astronomers have long known that the bulge of stars in Andromeda is bigger as is the super massive black hole at its center. Now we know that it may be a better producer of small black holes as well.
[Runtime: 01:45]
(NASA/CXC/J. DePasquale)

Related Chandra Images:
  • Photo Album: M31

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