In 1604, a new star appeared in the night sky that was much brighter than Jupiter and dimmed over several weeks. This event was witnessed by sky watchers including the famous astronomer Johannes Kepler. Centuries later, the debris from this exploded star is known as the Kepler supernova remnant.
Astronomers have long studied the Kepler supernova remnant and tried to determine exactly what happened when the star exploded to create it. New analysis of a long observation from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory is providing more clues. This analysis suggests that the supernova explosion was not only more powerful, but might have also occurred at a greater distance, than previously thought.
This week marks the return to school for most kids (if they haven't been there for a week or more already). The post-Labor Day week got us thinking about school and education as it relates to Chandra and X-ray astrophysics.
Over the years, we've gotten questions submitted to the website that ask about what types of things should people study to become an astronomer like this one:
This composite image shows a superbubble in the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), a small satellite galaxy of the Milky Way, located about 160,000 light years from Earth. Many new stars, some of them very massive, are forming in the star cluster NGC 1929, which is embedded in the nebula N44. The massive stars produce intense radiation, expel matter at high speeds, and race through their evolution to explode as supernovas. The winds and supernova shock waves carve out huge cavities called superbubbles in the surrounding gas. X-rays from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory (blue) show hot regions created by these winds and shocks, while infrared data from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope (red) outline where the dust and cooler gas are found. The optical light from the 2.2m Max-Planck-ESO telescope (yellow) in Chile shows where ultraviolet radiation from hot, young stars is causing gas in the nebula to glow.
Today marks the launch of a new project – both physically and virtually. We are so happy to announce that "Here, There, and Everywhere" (known by the acronym of HTE) has officially debuted.
You may have heard this question, or asked it yourself: why bother studying things that are millions or billions of miles away in space? HTE, among other things, is a project that addresses that question.
For more background about the Phoenix Cluster, including how it was discovered and the meaning of its adopted name, we have interviewed the first author Michael McDonald. Michael has recently started a Hubble postdoctoral Fellowship at the Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He received Bachelor degrees and a Masters of Science from Queen’s University in Canada, and a PhD from the University of Maryland.
Following the success of our first poetry competition last year, the Chandra X-ray Observatory and Jonathan Taylor, Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing, have now run a second competition, in which Creative Writing students at De Montfort University in the U.K. were invited to write poems inspired by some of Chandra's findings. The final two entries of the four winning pieces are included here. Congratulations to all four winners.
Want more astropoetry? See these previous pieces.
Pat Slane, a scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, is a very busy guy. In addition to being the head of Chandra's Mission Planning group, he also conducts his own independent research into the study of supernova remnants and neutron stars (the aftermath of the massive stars that have exploded.) He also takes the time to participate in outreach, including heading up the "Stop for Science" project. Despite his hectic schedule, Pat sat down with the Chandra blog to discuss how he got where he is today in his career.
What does this image show? It looks very different from images that typically appear on our web-site, of galaxies and star clusters and exploded stars. It looks vaguely like a swarm of moths but with rectangular shapes that don't really look like wings. It might also pass for abstract art.
The answer is an astronomical one: this is a large mosaic showing Chandra observations from its archive centered on the Virgo Cluster. The rectangles are sets of charge-coupled devices (CCDs) on Chandra, showing X-ray emission from hot gas in the cluster's atmosphere, or around black holes. The rectangles often come in pairs because this is how a common configuration of Chandra CCDs appears on the sky: two square CCDs next to a set of three. The observations are scattered around because they targeted many different galaxies in and around Virgo.
New results based on the two objects shown here are challenging the prevailing ideas as to how supermassive black holes grow in the centers of galaxies. NGC 4342 and NGC 4291, the two galaxies in the study, are nearby in cosmic terms at distances of 75 million and 85 million light years respectively. In these composite images, X-rays from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory are colored blue, while infrared data from the 2MASS project are seen in red.
Astronomers had known from previous observations that these galaxies host black holes with unusually large masses compared to the mass contained in the central bulge of stars. To study the dark matter envelopes contained in each galaxy, Chandra was used to examine their hot gas content, which was found to be widespread in both objects.
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