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Normal Stars & Star Clusters
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Normal Stars & Star Clusters
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Normal Stars & Star Clusters
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Normal Stars & Star Clusters
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1. Tour of NGC 6357
QuicktimeMPEG Although there are no seasons in space, this cosmic vista invokes thoughts of a frosty winter landscape. It is, in fact, a region called NGC 6357 where radiation from hot, young stars is energizing the cooler gas in the cloud that surrounds them.

Located about 5,500 light years from Earth, NGC 6357 is actually a "cluster of clusters" containing at least three clusters of young stars, including many hot, massive, luminous stars. X-ray data from Chandra and ROSAT reveal hundreds of point sources, which are the young stars in NGC 6357, as well as diffuse X-ray emission from hot gas. There are bubbles, or cavities, that have been created by radiation and material blowing away from the surfaces of massive stars, plus supernova explosions.

Researchers use Chandra to study NGC 6357 and similar objects because young stars are bright in X-rays. Also, X-rays can penetrate the shrouds of gas and dust surrounding these infant stars, allowing astronomers to see details of star birth that would be otherwise missed.
[Runtime: 02:08]
(NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)

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2. Tour of Cyg X-3's Little Friend
QuicktimeMPEG The story of how stars are born and eventually die can be a complicated one. After all, the life and death of stars is determined by many factors including its mass and environment. Take, for example, Cygnus X-3. For decades, astronomers have studied this object and determined that it is a so-called X-ray binary. This means that it is, in fact, a pair of objects. One of the objects is a compact source - either a neutron star or black hole that was produced by the death of a massive star - that is pulling material away from the other object, a living companion star.

In 2003, astronomers noticed something else when observing Cygnus X-3 with Chandra. They saw another source very close to Cygnus X-3 on the sky. Thanks to Chandra's unparalleled X-ray vision, they were able to resolve this source even though it was a mere 16 arcseconds away on the sky. To put it another way, the separation of Cygnus X-3 and this new source is equivalent to the width of a penny about 800 feet away. Astronomers nicknamed this new object the "Little Friend."

Recently, a team of astronomers has combined Chandra data with radio data from the Submillimeter Array to learn more about both Cygnus X-3 and the Little Friend. They determined that the Little Friend is a Bok globule, which is a small, dense, very cold cloud. The radio data shows that the Little Friend is producing jets, indicating that a new star is forming inside. This unusual configuration of an X-ray binary so close to a Bok globule provides astronomers with a new way of studying how stars - or at least some of them - form.
[Runtime: 02:54]
(NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)

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3. Is the Sun Really a Giant Pokemon?
QuicktimeMPEG Over the last few weeks Pokémon Go has taken the world by storm. Visit the beach and you'll see dozens of people battling to catch water-type Pokémon like Magikarp or Krabby. Take a walk in the countryside and you'll find yourself surrounded by grass-type Caterpies.

But what type of Pokémon would you find in space?

While the Sun is obviously not a Pokémon, it actually has a lot in common with an electric-type Pokémon called Magneton. 'Discharge' and 'Zap Cannon' are two of Magneton's most powerful attacks.

Similarly, the Sun can create powerful storms capable of knocking out communication satellites and damaging electrical power systems on Earth!

These storms are caused by 'magnetic fields' on the Sun. A magnet (like those you can stick to your refrigerator) creates an invisible force field all around it, called a magnetic field. The Sun acts like a magnet. But how the Sun, and stars like the Sun, create their magnetic fields is a bit of a puzzle.

The inside of a star is made of layers. There's a zone where the star's energy moves outwards, and another where the energy circles up and down. Many scientists believe that stars' magnetic fields are produced in the area where these two layers meet.

However, stars much less massive than the Sun don't have both these layers, as you can see in the picture above. Yet a new study has just found that they still have magnetic fields similar to stars like the Sun!

It looks like our theory of magnetic fields needs to be re-examined!
[Runtime: 02:22]
(NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)

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4. Tour of GJ 3253
QuicktimeMPEG Despite appearing as a steady yellow disk in our sky, the Sun is actually an incredibly active ball of superheated gas. Sometimes the Sun has storms that launch from its surface and send energy and particles into the Solar System. On Earth, these solar storms can generate auroras, damage satellites and power grids, and potentially harm astronauts in orbit.

Therefore, many scientists are working hard to better understand what causes the Sun to act as it does. They do know that the Sun's magnetic fields are largely responsible for producing its behavior, but there are still many details that remain mysterious.

By studying the X-ray emission of four stars with lower masses than the Sun, a pair of astronomers may have made an important discovery. They found that these lower-mass stars have magnetic fields that are similar in strength to stars like the Sun. This is surprising because the Sun and Sun-like stars have different regions within them where energy flows differently. Astronomers have thought the boundary between these different regions would contribute to the strength of the magnetic fields. If stars without such a boundary - like those in this latest study - have magnetic fields of similar strength, then this theory may need to be re-examined.
[Runtime: 02:23]
(NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)

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5. Tour of TW Hya
QuicktimeMPEG 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)

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6. Tour of Delta Orionis
QuicktimeMPEG One of the most recognizable constellations in the sky is Orion, the Hunter. Among Orion's best-known features is the "belt," consisting of three bright stars in a line, each of which can be seen without a telescope. The westernmost star in Orion's belt is known officially as Delta Orionis. (Since it has been observed for centuries by sky-watchers around the world, it also goes by many other names in various cultures, like "Mintaka".) Modern astronomers know that Delta Orionis is not simply one single star, but rather it is a complex multiple star system.

Delta Orionis is, in fact, a small stellar group with three components and five stars in total. Two of the stars are single stars and may give off small amounts of X-rays. The third component on the other hand, has been detected as a strong X-ray source. Today, astronomers know that this component, called Delta Orionis A, is itself a triple star system.

In Delta Orionis A, two closely separated stars orbit around each other every 5.7 days, while a third star orbits this pair with a period of over 400 years. The more massive, or primary, star in the closely-separated stellar pair weighs about 25 times the mass of the Sun. The less massive, or secondary star, weighs about ten times the mass of the Sun.

The chance alignment of this pair of stars allows one star to pass in front of the other during every orbit from the vantage point of Earth. This special class of star system is known as an "eclipsing binary," and it gives astronomers a direct way to measure the mass and size of the stars. By observing this eclipsing binary component of Delta Orionis A with NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory for the equivalent of nearly six days, a team of researchers gleaned important information about massive stars and how their winds play a role in their evolution and affect their surroundings.

Massive stars, although relatively rare, can have profound impacts on the galaxies they inhabit. These giant stars are so bright that their radiation blows powerful winds of stellar material away, affecting the chemical and physical properties of the gas in their host galaxies. These stellar winds also help determine the fate of the stars themselves, which will eventually explode as supernovas and leave behind a neutron star or black hole.
[Runtime: 03:46]
(NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)

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7. The Teeny Tiny Planet Destroyer
QuicktimeMPEG If you're a fan of science fiction, you'll have seen some pretty crazy things, up to time travel and the destruction of entire planets! We saw poor Spock's home planet Vulcan destroyed in Star Trek, and in Star Wars Princess Leia's home planet of Alderaan was blown to smithereens.

Does the destruction of planets really happen in the Universe, or is this just science fiction?

Astronomers have recently discovered evidence that a planet may have been destroyed in our very own Galaxy. Even scarier, it appears to have been destroyed by a star that was once like our own Sun!

When a star like our Sun runs out of fuel to burn, its outer layers drift away into space, leaving just the very centre. For this star, and the Sun, that will be a ball about the size of Earth (over a million times smaller), which is hot, dense and really bright. This is called a white dwarf star.

It was a white dwarf star like this that ripped apart the planet. But how could such a teeny tiny star be responsible for such a violent act?

The answer is gravity. The gravity at the surface of a white dwarf is over 10,000 times higher than the gravity at the surface of the Sun.

One day, the planet appears to have strayed too close to the star and was ripped apart. Parts of it were then gobbled up by the white dwarf.
[Runtime: 01:59]
(NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)

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8. Tour of NGC 1333
QuicktimeMPEG While fireworks only last a short time here on Earth, a bundle of cosmic sparklers in a nearby cluster of stars will be going off for a very long time. NGC 1333 is a star cluster populated with many young stars that are less than 2 million years old, a blink of an eye in astronomical terms for stars like the Sun that are expected to burn for billions of years.

A new composite image combines X-rays from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory with infrared data from the Spitzer Space Telescope as well as optical data from telescopes on the ground: the Digitized Sky Survey and the National Optical Astronomical Observatories' Mayall 4-meter telescope on Kitt Peak.

What do X-rays from Chandra tell astronomers about NGC 1333? First, the Chandra data reveal 95 young stars glowing in X-ray light, 41 of which had not been identified before. Researchers also can use the X-ray data to learn about certain properties of the young stars in NGC 1333 and other clusters like it. By using the information from different telescopes that can detect different types of light, we can get a spectacular view of these beautiful cosmic fireworks.
[Runtime: 01:36]
(NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)

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9. Tour of NGC 6388
QuicktimeMPEG The destruction of a planet may sound like the stuff of science fiction, but a team of astronomers has found evidence that this may have happened in an ancient cluster of stars at the edge of the Milky Way galaxy. Using several telescopes, including NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, researchers have found evidence that a white dwarf star - the dense core of a star like the Sun that has run out of nuclear fuel - may have ripped apart a planet as it came too close.

How could a white dwarf star, which is only about the size of the Earth, be responsible for such an extreme act? The answer is gravity. When a star reaches its white dwarf stage, nearly all of the material from the star is packed inside a radius one hundredth that of the original star. This means that, for close encounters, the gravitational pull of the star and the tides associated with it are greatly enhanced. For example, the gravity at the surface of a white dwarf is over ten thousand times higher than the gravity at the surface of the Sun.

Chandra's excellent X-ray vision enabled the astronomers to determine that the X-rays from NGC 6388 were not coming from a black hole at the center of the cluster, but instead from a location slightly off to one side. This ruled out a central black hole as the source of the X-rays, so the hunt for clues about the nature of the X-rays in NGC 6388 continued. Monitoring NGC 6388 with the Swift telescope, astronomers watched as the source become dimmer over 200 days. The rate at which the X-ray brightness dropped matched theoretical models for the disruption of a planet by the gravitational tidal forces of a white dwarf. Astronomers will continue to study NGC 6388 in order to learn everything they can about this interesting object on the outskirts of our Milky Way galaxy.
[Runtime: 02:22]
(NASA/CXC/April Jubett)

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10. The Most Attractive Stars in the Universe
QuicktimeMPEG 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.
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(NASA/CXC/April Jubett)

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