Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
60 Garden Street, Cambridge, MA 02138

June 1999
For more information, contact:
Wallace Tucker 617.496.7998

Chandra X-ray Observatory

Observing the High Energy universe

X-rays are a high-energy, invisible form of light. They are produced in the cosmos when gas is heated to millions of degrees by violent and extreme conditions. Much of the matter in the universe is so hot that it can be observed only with X-ray telescopes. Flaring stars, exploding stars, black holes, and vast clouds of hot gas in galaxy clusters are among the fascinating objects that Chandra X-ray Observatory is designed to study.

Images from Chandra X-ray Observatory will show fifty times more detail than any previous X-ray telescope. It is a revolutionary telescope that combines the ability to make sharp images while it measures precisely the energies of X-rays coming from cosmic sources.

Stars, Supernovae & Life

How will Chandra images of young stars help scientists better understand the evolution of life on Earth?

On occasion, a spectacular eruption occurs in the upper atmosphere of the Sun. These eruptions, called solar flares, shower Earth's atmosphere with X-rays and high-energy particles. The long term effects of solar flares on the climate and on life on Earth is not well understood. By observing X-rays

NGC 2516
ROSAT X-ray image of NGC 2516, a cluster of young stars. (NASA)
from hundreds of other stars, especially young stars which flare much more often than the Sun, astrophysicists hope to get a better idea of what conditions were like on Earth when the Sun was young.

What can X-ray spectra reveal about the origin of heavy elements that are necessary for life?

Heavy elements such as carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and iron are made deep in the interior of massive stars. They are eventually spread throughout space when a massive star undergoes a catastrophic explosion called a supernova.

Cas A
ROSAT X-ray image of Cassiopeia A, a remnant of a star that exploded about 300 years ago. (NASA)

In our galaxy a supernova occurs about every fifty years. The shell of matter thrown off by the supernova creates a bubble of multimillion degree gas called a supernova remnant. This hot gas will expand and produce X-radiation for thousands of years. Chandra X-ray Observatory images will trace the dynamics of the expanding remnant. When heavy elements present in the hot gas are heated to high temperatures, they produce X-rays of specific energies. Chandra X-ray Observatory detectors will precisely measure the energies of these X-rays and tell how much of each element is present.
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