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Normal Stars & Star Clusters
X-ray Astronomy Field Guide
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 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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2. 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.
[Runtime: 02:04]
(NASA/CXC/April Jubett)

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3. Chandra's Archives Come to Life
QuicktimeMPEG Every year, NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory looks at hundreds of objects throughout space to help expand our understanding of the Universe. Ultimately, these data are stored in the Chandra Data Archive, an electronic repository that provides access to these unique X-ray findings for anyone who would like to explore them. With the passing of Chandra's 15th anniversary, in operation since August 26, 1999, the archive continues to grow as each successive year adds to the enormous and invaluable dataset.

To celebrate Chandra's decade and a half in space, and to honor October as American Archive Month, a variety of objects have been selected from Chandra's archive. Each of the new images we have produced combines Chandra data with those from other telescopes. This technique of creating "multiwavelength" images allows scientists and the public to see how X-rays fit with data of other types of light, such as optical, radio, and infrared. As scientists continue to make new discoveries with the telescope, the burgeoning archive will allow us to see the high-energy Universe as only Chandra can.
[Runtime: 01:27]
(NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)

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4. At the End of the Rainbow
QuicktimeMPEG Looking up at the night sky, you might think that space is dull, with lots of black, some white dots and just a hint of red if you're lucky. But if we look deeper, space has a lot more to offer than what our eyes can see!

You've probably heard the phrase 'visible light'. This is what we call the range of colors that humans can see with their eyes. Visible light is just a tiny portion of all light. So astronomers have built special telescopes to see things that human eyes can't! For this picture, three telescopes were used and each picked up a different type of light.

This image shows a 'superbubble', a cloud of hot gas blown away from bright, young stars at its center. The superbubble has been captured with one of the telescopes in X-ray light, which has been colored blue. X-rays have a lot of energy, so when we look at the Universe in X-ray light, we see some of the hottest gas and most powerful explosions.

Infrared light is given off by much cooler objects than stars. For example, humans give off infrared light of our own! In this picture, infrared shows us the colder gas and dust of the superbubble, colored in red. This part of the picture was taken with the second telescope. The rest of the picture is yellow, showing us visible light. These are the parts of the image that we could see with our own eyes, if we were close enough, and if our eyes were sensitive enough!
[Runtime: 02:14]
(NASA/CXC/April Jubett)

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5. Tour of WASP-18
QuicktimeMPEG A new study using data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory has shown that a planet is making the star that it orbits act much older than it actually is. WASP-18b is a "hot Jupiter," that is, a giant exoplanet that orbits very close to its star. Specifically, astronomers estimate WASP-18b is about ten times more massive than Jupiter, yet it orbits its star about once every 23 hours. By comparison, it takes Jupiter about 12 years to complete one trip around the Sun from its great distance. The new Chandra data of the WASP-18 system show that this huge planet is so close to its star that it may be causing a dampening of the star's magnetic field. As stars age, their X-ray and magnetic activity decreases. Astronomers determine that WASP-18 is only between 500 million and 2 billion years old, a relatively young age for a star. Given this age, astronomers expect that WASP-18 would be giving off lots of X-rays. Surprisingly, astronomers did not see any X-rays from WASP-18b during recent long Chandra observations. The researchers think that tidal forces from the gravitational pull of the massive planet - similar to those the Moon has on Earth's tides but on a much larger scale - may be responsible for disrupting the magnetic field of the star. This, in turn, may be making this star act old be before its time.
[Runtime: 01:56]
(NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)

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6. Tour of Eta Carinae
QuicktimeMPEG The Eta Carinae star system does not lack for superlatives. First, it contains one of the biggest and brightest stars in our galaxy, weighing at least 90 times the mass of the Sun. It is also extremely volatile and astronomers expect it will have at least one supernova explosion in the future. As one of the first objects observed by NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory after its launch some 15 years ago, this double star system continues to reveal new clues about its nature through the X-rays it generates. New Chandra data are helping astronomers better understand how the two stars in Eta Carinae interact with one another through powerful winds blowing off their surfaces. As the two stars travel around each other in their elliptical orbits, the amount of X-rays detected changes. This gives astronomers clues to what is happening between these stars now and what may happen to this system in the future.
[Runtime: 01:15]
(NASA/CXC/April Jubett)

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7. Tour of Flame Nebula
QuicktimeMPEG Astronomers have made an important advance in the understanding of how clusters of stars like our Sun form using data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and infrared telescopes. The data show early notions of how star clusters are formed cannot be correct. The simplest idea is stars form into clusters when a giant cloud of gas and dust condenses. The center of the cloud pulls in material from its surroundings until it becomes dense enough to trigger star formation. This process occurs in the center of the cloud first, implying that the stars in the middle of the cluster form first and, therefore, are the oldest. These new results suggest something else is happening. By studying two clusters where Sun-like stars are forming - NGC 2024 (located in the center of the "Flame Nebula") and the Orion Nebula Cluster - researchers have discovered the stars on the outskirts of the clusters are actually the oldest. The researchers will use this same technique of combining X-rays and infrared data to study the age range in other clusters. In the meantime, scientists will be hard at work to develop other, more complex ideas to explain what they've seen in NGC 2024 and the Orion Nebula Cluster.
[Runtime: 01:32]
(NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)

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8. A Field Trip to Star School
QuicktimeMPEG If you wanted to learn about young people, you would probably visit a school where there are lots of young people, right? This photograph shows a star "school" - home to over a thousand of the biggest and brightest young stars in the sky. When astronomers want to study young stars, this cluster - called Cygnus OB2 - is one of the first places they look.

Cygnus OB2 is the largest star cluster in the northern half of the sky, containing about 30,000 times as much material as the Sun! This cluster also happens to be one of the closest to Earth. So why didn't you hear about this before? Well, it is almost completely hidden behind a massive dust cloud. To study it, astronomers have to use telescopes that can "see" in X-ray and infrared light. These types of light can go through the thick dust that is impenetrable for visible light.

One of the most interesting - but unfortunate! - discoveries that astronomers made while studying the massive, young stars in this cluster, is that most of them will host fewer planets than their brothers and sisters in less massive clusters. Some might not host planets at all!

When a star forms, there is always some material left over. This becomes a disc of dust and dirt, like a thicker version of Saturn's rings. Within this disc, small dust grains made of rock and ice can form, and these sometimes merge together into larger and larger objects - imagine rolling a snowball around in the snow: it becomes bigger and bigger as it collects snow. This is how planets are born.

Massive, young stars however, can destroy the dusty discs of their lower-mass neighbors with their intense energy spatting out, long before any planets might be born!
[Runtime: 02:20]
(NASA/CXC/April Jubett)

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9. Tour of DEM L241
QuicktimeMPEG When a massive star runs out fuel, it collapses and explodes as a supernova. Although these explosions are extremely powerful, it is possible for a nearby star to endure the blast. A team of astronomers using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and other telescopes has found evidence for one of these survivors. This hardy star is in a stellar explosion's debris field - also called its supernova remnant - located in an HII region called DEM L241. An HII (pronounced "H-two") region is created when the radiation from hot, young stars strips away the electrons from neutral hydrogen atoms to form clouds of ionized hydrogen. This particular HII region is located in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a small neighboring galaxy to the Milky Way. The supernova remnant remains hot for thousands of years after the original explosion occurred, and this means that it continues to glow brightly in X-rays that can be detected by Chandra. The data suggest that a point-like source in X-rays is one component of a binary star system. In such a celestial pair, either a neutron star or black hole, which is formed when the star went supernova, is in orbit with a star much larger than our Sun. As they orbit one another, the dense neutron star or black hole pulls material away its companion star through the wind of particles that flows away from its surface. If this result is confirmed, DEM L241 would be only the third binary containing both a massive star and a neutron star or black hole ever found in the aftermath of a supernova.
[Runtime: 01:59]
(NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)

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10. Super-Sized Space Spider!
QuicktimeMPEG Don't worry if you have a phobia of spiders, it is safe to keep watching! That's because this wonderful picture of a star-forming region called the Tarantula Nebula doesn't show the bright lines of gas that usually make it look like it has the legs of a spider.

Instead, this picture gives us an unusual view of the Tarantula Nebula. Astronomers had to combine observations made with two space telescopes to create this photo. It shows the X-ray radiation given off by very hot gas (the blue parts, captured by the Chandra X-ray Observatory) and the cooler gas that surrounds it (the orange parts, taken by the Spitzer Space Telescope).

The Tarantula Nebula is already big - it would take light about 650 years to cross from one end to the other - but it's getting even bigger! Astronomers have two ideas about what is causing the Tarantula's growth: Some astronomers think that explosions of the hot gas (shown in blue) are making it bigger, while others think that radiation from massive stars is causing the gas in the nebula to expand. To find out what is going on once and for all, astronomers need to take another look at this region.

When astronomers observe the Tarantula Nebula again, they won't be looking to prove their own ideas right. All they can do is look at what their observations tell them - even if it means acknowledging that they had been wrong.
[Runtime: 01:55]
(NASA/CXC/April Jubett)

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