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Recent Podcast
A Tour of R Aquarii
A Tour of R Aquarii
In biology, "symbiosis" refers to two organisms that live close to and interact with one another. Astronomers have long studied a class of stars – called symbiotic stars – that co-exist in a similar way. (2017-06-07)
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Animations & Video: Featured Image Tours
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1. Tour of TW Hya
QuicktimeMPEG Audio Only With closed-captions (at YouTube)

One of the most exciting developments in astronomy in the last couple of decades has been the discovery and study of planets around stars other than our Sun. These worlds outside our Solar System are known as exoplanets. Today, we know that exoplanets can be found in a whole host of configurations and around many different types of stars. Yet astronomers are still trying to determine exactly what conditions make the formation of planets viable - or not.

A new study using observations from the Chandra X-ray Observatory is helping to provide insight about the likelihood of planets forming around stars less massive and much younger than the Sun. The TW Hydra group of stars contains these smaller and fainter stars, with ages of about 8 million years old. By contrast, our Sun is about 4.5 billion years old. The researchers wanted to look at stars of this juvenile age because this is when it is thought that planets would begin to form and develop.

The researchers found that even these more diminutive stars can unleash a damaging amount of X-rays, potentially destroying planet-forming disks that surround them. This result suggests that X-ray output should be factored in when thinking about how hospitable low-mass stars really are for planets surviving around them.
[Runtime: 02:25]
(NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)

Related Chandra Images:

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2. Tour of Tycho's Supernova Remnant
QuicktimeMPEG Audio Only With closed-captions (at YouTube)

When the star that created this supernova remnant exploded in 1572, it was so bright that it was visible during the day. And though he wasn't the first or only person to observe this stellar spectacle, the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe wrote a book about his extensive observations of the event, gaining the honor of it being named after him.

In modern times, astronomers have observed the debris field from this explosion - what is now known as Tycho's supernova remnant - with many telescopes including the Chandra X-ray Observatory. Since much of the material being flung out from the shattered star has been heated by shock waves - similar to sonic booms from supersonic planes - passing through it, the remnant glows strongly in X-ray light.

Astronomers used Chandra observations from 2000 through 2015 to create the longest movie of the Tycho remnant's X-ray evolution over time - the first such movie of Tycho ever made. This movie shows that the expansion from the explosion is still continuing about 450 years after Tycho Brahe and others witnessed the event.

By combining the X-ray data with some 30 years of observations in radio waves with the VLA, also producing a movie, astronomers have used these data to learn new things about this supernova and its remnant.

So grab some popcorn and enjoy this early summer movie. It will be unlike any you'll see in the theater!
[Runtime: 02:32]
(NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)

Related Chandra Images:

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3. Tour of VLA J2130+12
QuicktimeMPEG Audio Only With closed-captions (at YouTube)

As their reputation -- and very name - suggest, black holes are black. That is, once light passes a certain threshold of a black hole, called the event horizon, it never returns. This should make them virtually impossible to find. However, astronomers have found many black holes both here in our Milky Way galaxy and beyond. How is that possible? The answer is that regions immediately surrounding the black hole are often very bright in different types of light, including X-rays. That's because the black hole's immense gravitational pull can pull material away from a companion star at a high rate. This can create a swirling disk of heated material, generate enormous jets that reach across vast distances of space, or produce other telltale signs that we can observe with modern telescopes.

But what if a black hole is just sitting in space quietly, pulling in material at an unusually slow rate? It turns out that this might be more common than astronomers thought. A new result shows that a source within our Galaxy is actually a very quiet black hole - one that was never identified before as a black hole until now. It took data from many telescopes including Chandra, Hubble and several radio observatories to piece together all of the necessary information.

A team of researchers is now very confident that this source - known as VLA J2130+12 for short - contains a black hole a few times the mass of the Sun. This result suggests that the Milky Way galaxy could have thousands or even millions of these silent black holes. To find out if this is the case, astronomers will be looking to find them.
[Runtime: 03:00]
(NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)

Related Chandra Images:

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4. Tour of XJ1417+52
QuicktimeMPEG Audio Only With closed-captions (at YouTube)

Black holes come in different sizes. The largest, or supermassive, black holes can contain hundreds of thousands times the mass of the Sun up to billions of times its mass and typically reside in the centers of galaxies. Sometimes, however, astronomers find black holes in somewhat unusual places.

Take, for example, the object known as XJ1417+52. First discovered in observations from Chandra and XMM-Newton over a decade ago, this object has some interesting properties. To begin with, astronomers think this object may fall right at the boundary between supermassive black holes and the intermediate-mass category. As their name suggest, the latter class are black holes of medium size in between stellar mass black holes and supermassive ones. X-rays from both Chandra and XMM-Newton show that XJ1417+52 gave off an extraordinary amount of X-rays. This and other pieces of evidence suggest that XJ1417+52 contains about 100,000 times the mass of the Sun.

What makes this object even more interesting is its location. Rather than being in the center of its host galaxy, it is located on its northern edge. Astronomers think this could have happened when a smaller galaxy with XJ1417+52 at its center collided with a larger galaxy. Since these two galaxies are still in the process of merging, the two black holes have yet to coalesce into one bigger black hole, but may do so millions or billions of years from now.
[Runtime: 02:43]
(NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)

Related Chandra Images:

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5. A Tour of Circinus X-1
QuicktimeMPEG Audio Only With closed-captions (at YouTube)

In astronomy, it is often difficult to figure out exactly far away objects are. For objects in our Solar System and nearby stars, astronomers can use reliable methods involving geometry. However, these techniques cannot be applied to objects beyond our immediate cosmic neighborhood. There are some rare circumstances where relatively simple geometric techniques can be used to determine distances to more far-flung objects.

This is the case of Circinus X-1, a system in which a neutron star is in orbit around a massive star. In 2013, astronomers watched as Circinus X-1 erupted in a giant burst of X-rays. Afterwards, they used NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and ESA's XMM-Newton to observe what happened next. The scientists now report that they see a set of four rings that appear as circles around Circinus X-1. What are these are these rings and what do they do? These rings are light echoes, similar to sound echoes that we may experience here on Earth. Instead of sound waves bouncing off a canyon wall, the echoes around Circinus X-1 are produced when a burst of X-rays from the star system ricochets off of clouds of dust between Circinus X-1 and Earth.

By combining the light echoes that Chandra detects with radio data from the Mopra telescope in Australia, which determined the distance to the intervening clouds, astronomers can estimate the distance to Circinus X-1 using relatively simple geometry. The light echo method generates a distance of 30,700 light years. The observation thus settles a large difference amongst previous results, one similar to this work and one indicating a much smaller distance of about 13,000 light years.
[Runtime: 02:06]
(NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)

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6. A Tour of G299.2-2.9
QuicktimeMPEG Audio Only With closed-captions (at YouTube)

Over its decade and a half in orbit, NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory has looked at many different objects. Some of its most spectacular images are undoubtedly of supernova remnants. Because the debris fields of exploded stars are very hot and energetic, they glow brightly in X-ray light. The supernova remnant called G299.2-2.9, or G299 for short, is no exception. This new Chandra image of G299 shows a beautiful and intricate structure in the expanding remains of the shattered star. By analyzing the details of the remnant today, astronomers can get information about the explosion that created the remnant about 4,500 years ago.
[Runtime: 00:55]
(NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)

Related Chandra Images:

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7. A Tour of IC 443
QuicktimeMPEG Audio Only With closed-captions (at YouTube)

The supernova remnant IC 443 has earned the nickname of the Jellyfish Nebula due to its distinctive shape. The Jellyfish Nebula, lying about 5,000 light years from Earth, is the remnant of a supernova that occurred over 10,000 years ago. Astronomers have been searching for the spinning neutron star, or pulsar, that may have formed in the explosion that created the Jellyfish Nebula. New Chandra observations show that a peculiar object, called J0617, may indeed be this pulsar.

When a massive star runs out of fuel, it implodes, and a dense stellar core, called a neutron star, is formed. The outer layers of the star collapse toward the neutron star then bounce outward in a supernova explosion. If the neutron star produces a beam of radiation and is rotating, it is called a pulsar, because pulses of radio waves and other types of radiation can be detected as the object spins.

The X-ray brightness of J0617 and its X-ray spectrum, that is, the amount of X-rays at different wavelengths, are consistent with the profiles from known pulsars. The spectrum and shape of the diffuse, or spread out, X-ray emission surrounding J0617 and extending well beyond the ring also match with expectations for a wind flowing from a pulsar.

While certain questions remain about this system, this latest research provides promise that astronomers may finally determine exactly what spawned the Jellyfish Nebula.
[Runtime: 02:52]
(NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)

Related Chandra Images:

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8. A Tour of IYL 2015
QuicktimeMPEG Audio Only With closed-captions (at YouTube)

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:

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9. A Tour of NGC 2276
QuicktimeMPEG Audio Only With closed-captions (at YouTube)

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
10. A Tour of RGG 118
QuicktimeMPEG Audio Only With closed-captions (at YouTube)

Oxymorons are often thought of as gaffes in language, but a new black hole discovery shows they can also represent important scientific advances. Astronomers using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and the 6.5-meter Clay Telescope in Chile have identified the smallest giant black hole known. This oxymoronic object could provide clues to how much larger black holes formed along with their host galaxies billion of years in the past.

Astronomers estimate this supermassive black hole is about 50,000 times the mass of the Sun. This is less than half the previous lowest mass for a black hole at the center of a galaxy. The tiny heavyweight black hole is located at the center of a dwarf disk galaxy, called RGG 118, about 340 million light years from Earth.

Researchers estimated the mass of the black hole by studying the motion of cool gas near the center of the galaxy using visible light data from the Clay Telescope. They used the Chandra data to figure out the brightness in X-rays of hot gas swirling toward the black hole. They found that the outward push of radiation pressure of this hot gas is about 1% of the black hole's inward pull of gravity. This matches the properties of other supermassive black holes.

The black hole in RGG 118 is nearly 100 times less massive than the supermassive black hole found in the center of the Milky Way. It is also about 200,000 times less massive than the heaviest black holes found in the centers of other galaxies.

Researchers will keep looking for other supermassive black holes that are comparable in size or even smaller than the one in RGG 118. It is important to gather a large sample because black holes of this size might be seeds that lead to the formation of much larger supermassive black holes.
[Runtime: 02:10]
(NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)

Related Chandra Images: