Playing it Safe: Chandra's Return to Science Observations

PS 01247+4630
Credit: NASA/CXC/Trinity University/D. Pooley et al.

On October 10th, NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory went into “safe mode,” following a glitch on one of the telescope’s gyroscopes. After hard work by the team at the Chandra X-ray Center, the problem was identified and solved, allowed Chandra to resume science observations less than two weeks later on October 21st.

One of the first targets that Chandra looked at after its return to science was PS 0147+4630, a gravitationally-lensed quasar. What is that exactly? A quasar is a supermassive black hole that is rapidly consuming gas from its surroundings. The gas falls into a disk around the black hole where it becomes hot and generates prodigious amounts of radiation. Gravitational lensing is a phenomenon, first predicted by Einstein, where light from a very distant source is bent by a massive intervening object, such as a large galaxy or a galaxy cluster. This creates multiple images of a single, faraway object and amplifies the brightness of the light, acting in some ways as a natural magnifying glass.

Skeletons and Spacecraft: An X-ray Halloween

Skeleton in space

It’s that excellent time of year again when skeletons become all the rage. With Halloween just around the corner, the good folks at the Oregon Zoo released a series of X-ray images that show the fascinating — and a little bit spooky — skeletons of some of their animals.

Those of us who work for NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory share an affinity for X-ray images. After all, we’ve been in the business of collecting X-rays from space for nearly 20 years. During that time, we’ve observed X-rays coming from material falling into black holes, the remains of exploded stars, galaxies, and much, much more.

What’s the connection between X-rays from a doctor’s (or vet’s office) and those of a space-based telescope? A medical X-ray machine consists of two parts: an X-ray source at one end, and a camera at the other. The body or body part is placed in between. When the X-rays from the source shine, the camera records the X-rays that reach the photographic film or detector.

Carnival of Space

The Carnival of Space is a round up of astronomy and space-related blogs that started back in 2007. Every week, a different webmaster or blogger hosts the carnival, showcasing articles written on the topic of space. This week, it's our turn to host the Carnival here on the Chandra blog. Enjoy!

There’s a lot of news happening out there on the ground so let’s make sure we keep an eye on the latest from space in this week’s Carnival of Space.

At Universe Today, there were a slew of good posts to consider:

Artist’s impression of SpaceX’s proposed Mars Base Alpha.
Artist’s impression of SpaceX’s proposed Mars Base Alpha. Credit: SpaceX

Author Matt Williams discusses how his experience as a science journalist helped become a better science fiction writer.

Tammy Plotner takes us on a tour of the globular cluster NGC 6681, a.k.a. Messier 70, in their series of Messier Monday.

A report on the recent acquisition of a Danish freighter by Blue Origins updates us on the latest from the race to affordability by private space companies:

Q&A on Chandra's Safe Mode and Gyroscopes, Part II

(Q&A on Chandra's Safe Mode and Gyroscopes, Part I)


On October 21, Chandra returned to science observations, less than two weeks after a glitch in one of its four gyroscopes caused it to go into Safe Mode. To answer some of the questions surrounding Chandra’s gyroscopes, members of the Chandra X-ray Center and its Flight Operations Team have put together this Q&A.

The Winter 'AstrOlympics' Kick Off

Winter Olympic Ice Skater

As the athletes get set to compete in Pyeongchang, Korea, the public can explore the Olympic Games in a different way through an innovative project blending science and sports. “AstrOlympics” relates the amazing feats of Olympic athletes with the spectacular phenomena found throughout space.

This project from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory highlights the physical connections between sport and space. Examining various topics including speed, distance, time, mass, rotation, and pressure, AstrOlympics explores the impressive range of these different physical properties.

What Chandra & X-ray Astronomy Give Back

Illustration of Chandra X-ray Observatory
Illustration of Chandra X-ray Observatory

This week marks the 18th anniversary of Chandra’s “First Light,” when the first publicly available images from NASA’s flagship X-ray mission were released back in 1999 . Week after week, month after month, year after year, Chandra continues to deliver amazing results and make truly extraordinary discoveries across space. Scientists know so much more about the Universe now than we did before this amazing telescope began its work.

Black Holes and Vacuum Cleaners: Using Metaphors to Explain Space Images

Scientific imagery, especially those from space, can be both powerful and beautiful. The images created by professional and amateur astronomers alike are often striking. This gives science communicators an opportunity to use such images as an access point for the related subject matter. In other words, scientific images are a door through which we can walk towards the discoveries and insight that science can achieve.

The Aesthetics & Astronomy project (A&A) is a unique research project that aims to study exactly how people from different backgrounds and educational experiences interpret and interact with scientific imagery. Started at the Chandra X-ray Center and combining the expertise of astrophysicists, psychologists, image producers, and educators specializing in research methodology, A&A delves into how these images can be used as a vehicle for scientific information.

One question that A&A recently asked is: how effective are metaphors in communicating scientific results? To explore this question, the A&A project solicited input from nearly 2,000 participants and asked a series of questions through an online study. After presenting participants with four astronomical images — Sagittarius A*, Our Sun (solar flare), Cassiopeia A, and the Pinwheel Galaxy — they were shown three separate labels for each.

Carnival of Space

It’s Carnival time, folks, so let’s get started! Here is a brief look at interesting space stories from the past week.

At Universe Today, their writers have got the Universe covered. In one post, they take a look at an intriguing new result that may help tie "Joshua's Eclipse" to the Battle of Gibeon, showing how astronomy can help make connections in other fields such as history.

Processed image taken on Dec. 11, 2016, at 9:27 a.m. PST (12:27 p.m. EST) by the NASA Juno spacecraft, as it performed its third close flyby of Jupiter. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Eric Jorgensen

In another post, they explain the most recent exciting pass of the Juno spacecraft over the cloud tops of Jupiter. NASA is also offering the public the chance to vote on what features Juno should image next. Take a look!

Chandra’s Arcand Wins Smithsonian Education Award

Smithsonian Education Award
SI Secretary Skorton, Kim Arcand, Patricia Bartlett, Roger Brissenden (Credit: Smithsonian)

Many people associate the Smithsonian Institution with a handful of museums on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., when, in fact, the Smithsonian consists of 19 museums, 9 research centers, a zoo, and affiliates around the world.

One fact that may not be known to some is that NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory is inextricably linked with the Smithsonian. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO) in Cambridge, Mass., was at the center of the conception and development of the telescope and today it controls Chandra’s science and flight operations. In other words, Chandra is both a NASA and a Smithsonian mission.

Kim Arcand (Credit: Smithsonian)

One of the core tenants of the Smithsonian’s mission is the “increase and diffusion of knowledge.” This means that education and outreach can often take center stage at the Smithsonian. To highlight the important role education plays, the Smithsonian gives out one award every year to an employee that recognizes “creativity, excellence, and commitment to serving the nation through educational programming, exhibits, publications, and digital media.”

We are thrilled to announce that this year’s winner for the 2016 Smithsonian Education Achievement Award is Chandra’s visualization lead, Kimberly Arcand. Arcand was presented with the award on December 8, 2016 at the Smithsonian Castle in Washington, D.C. Among the Chandra-led projects being recognized were the NASA-funded public science programs "From Earth to the Universe" "Here, There & Everywhere," and “Light: Beyond the Bulb,” as well as Chandra community programs for girls and boys to improve coding skills with NASA data, and cutting-edge Chandra data visualization projects such as data-based 3D printed supernova remnants.


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