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An Expanse of Light
Chandra Archive Collection

  • A new gallery of images combining X-ray data from Chandra with those from other telescopes is being released.

  • The objects range from a supernova remnant within the Milky Way to a galaxy cluster millions of light years away.

  • The layers of data are colored in each image to enhance various features.

  • This is a demonstration of how new telescopes like JWST and IXPE will work with other observatories to explore the Universe.

The recent launches of the James Webb Space Telescope (Webb) and the Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) by NASA and its international partners are excellent reminders that the universe emits light or energy in many different forms. To fully investigate cosmic objects and phenomena, scientists need telescopes that can detect light across what is known as the electromagnetic spectrum.

This gallery provides examples of the ways that different types of light from telescopes on the ground and in space can be combined. The common thread in each of these selections is data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, illustrating how X-rays — which are emitted by very hot and energetic processes — are found throughout the Universe.

Montage with objects labeled
Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO; Optical: NASA/STScI, Palomar Observatory, DSS; Radio: NSF/NRAO/VLA; H-Alpha: LCO/IMACS/MMTF
R Aquarii

R Aquarii:
This object is, in fact, a pair: a white dwarf star that steadily burns at a relatively cool temperature and a highly variable red giant. As they orbit each other, the white dwarf pulls material from the red giant onto its surface. Over time, enough of this material accumulates and triggers an explosion. Astronomers have seen such outbursts over recent decades. Evidence for much older outbursts is seen in the spectacular structures observed by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope (red and blue). X-ray data from Chandra (purple) shows how a jet from the white dwarf is striking material surrounding it and creating shock waves, similar to sonic booms from supersonic planes.

Cassiopeia A

Cassiopeia A:
Chandra's observations of the Cassiopeia A supernova remnant have shown how individual elements from the exploded star are being cast off into space. In this image, X-rays reveal silicon (red), sulfur (yellow), calcium (green), and iron (light purple). The blue around the rim of the remnant reveals the blast wave from the explosion as it travels outward. This image also adds a layer of radio data of Cassiopeia A from the National Science Foundation's Karl Jansky Very Large Array (dark purple, blue, and white) and an optical image from Hubble (orange). Like X-rays, radio waves can penetrate thick clouds of gas and dust that lie between Earth and Cassiopeia A, providing additional information about this famous stellar explosion.

Guitar Nebula

Guitar Nebula
For the last decade or so, astronomers have been puzzled by the alignment of some jets of X-rays coming from very fast-moving pulsars (that is, spinning neutron stars) that shoot out into interstellar space at odd, unexpected angles. This is what astronomers see with PSR B2224+65, a pulsar found near the structure nicknamed the "Guitar Nebula" due to its shape in optical light (blue). An X-ray stream (pink) captured by Chandra is pointed nearly perpendicular to the guitar-shaped structure, originating from the magnetic poles of the pulsar.

Abell 2597

Abell 2597
Galaxy clusters, the largest structures in the universe held together by gravity, are dynamic environments containing individual galaxies and huge amounts of hot gas and dark matter. Often, an enormous black hole in the center of a cluster can help drive its behavior. In the galaxy cluster Abell 2597, a giant central supermassive black hole is driving the gas outward and creating bubbles, or voids, within it. This composite image of Abell 2597 includes X-rays from Chandra (blue), optical data from the Digitized Sky Survey (orange), and emission from hydrogen atoms in optical light from the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile (red).

NGC 4490

NGC 4490
When two galaxies are in the process of merging, the gravitational interaction can trigger waves of star formation. This is the case for NGC 4490, a spiral galaxy that has collided with a smaller galaxy to the upper right but not seen in this image. Scientists think that these two galaxies have already had their closest approach and are now separating from one another. Some of the point-like sources of X-rays represent stellar-mass black holes and neutron stars within the galaxy. In this image of NGC 4490, X-rays from Chandra (purple) have been combined with an optical image from Hubble (red, green, and blue).

NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center manages the Chandra program. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory's Chandra X-ray Center controls science operations from Cambridge, Massachusetts, and flight operations from Burlington, Massachusetts.


Fast Facts for R Aquarii:
Credit:   X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO/R. Montez et al.; Optical: Data: NASA/ESA/STScI, Enhanced processing by Judy Schmidt (CC BY-NC-SA). X-ray/Optical composite processing by CXC
Release Date:  February 2, 2022
Scale:  Image is about 4.2 arcmin (0.86 light years) across
Category  Normal Stars & Star Clusters, White Dwarfs & Planetary Nebulas
Coordinates (J2000):   RA 23h 49m 34.6s | -15° 17' 04"
Constellation:  Aquarius
Observation Dates:  3 pointings between Sep 2001 and Oct 2005
Observation Time:  34 hours 54 minutes (1 day 10 hours 54 minutes)
Obs. IDs:  651, 4546, 5438
Instrument:  ACIS
Color Code:  X-ray: purple; Optical: red, green, and blue
Distance Estimate:  About 710 light years
distance arrow


Fast Facts for Cassiopeia A:
Credit:  X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO; Optical: NASA/STScI; Radio: NSF/NRAO/VLA
Release Date:  February 2, 2022
Scale:  Image is about 8.9 arcmin (29 light years) across
Category:  Supernovas & Supernova Remnants
Coordinates (J2000):  RA 23h 23m 26.7s | Dec +58 49 03.00
Constellation:  Cassiopeia
Observation Dates:  16 pointings between Jan 2000 and Nov 2010
Observation Time:  353 hours (14 days 17 hours)
Obs. IDs:  114, 1952, 4634-4639, 5196, 5319, 5320, 6690, 10935-10936, 13177
Instrument:  ACIS
Color Code:  X-rays: red: silicon, yellow: sulfur, green: calcium, purple: iron, blue: blast wave/high energy; Optical: orange; Radio: purple, blue, white
Distance Estimate  About 11,000 light years
distance arrow


Facts for Guitar Nebula:
Credit:   X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO; Optical: NASA/STScI & Palomar Observatory 5-m Hale Telescope
Release Date:  February 2, 2022
Scale:  Image is about 253.3 arcmin (6 light years) across
Category:  Neutron Stars & X-ray Binaries
Coordinates (J2000):  RA 22h 25m 52.36s | Dec +65° 35" 33.79'
Constellation:  Cepheus
Observation Dates:  6 pointings between Oct 2000 and Aug 2012
Observation Time:  54 hours (2 days 6 hours)
Obs. IDs:  755, 6691, 7400, 13771, 14353, 14467
Instrument:  ACIS
Color Code:  X-ray: pink; Optical: blue
Distance Estimate  About 6,000 light years
distance arrow


Facts for Abell 2597:
Credit:   X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO/G. Tremblay et al.; Optical: DSS; H-Alpha: LCO/IMACS/MMTF
Release Date:  February 2, 2022
Scale:  Image is about 15 arcsec (75,000 light years) across
Category:  Groups and Clusters of Galaxies, Black Holes
Coordinates (J2000):  RA 23h 25m 19.6s | Dec -12° 07' 27.4"
Constellation:  Aquarius
Observation Dates:  July 28, 2000 through Oct 19, 2017
Observation Time:  173 hours 52 minutes (7 days 5 hours 52 minutes)
Obs. IDs:  922, 6934, 7329, 19596, 19597, 19598, 20626, 20627, 20628, 20629, 20805, 20806, 20811, 20817
Instrument:  ACIS
Color Code:  X-ray: blue; Optical: orange; H-Alpha: red
Distance Estimate  About 1.1 billion light years (z=0.0821)
distance arrow


Facts for NGC 4490:
Credit:   X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO; Optical: NASA/STScI
Release Date:  February 2, 2022
Scale:  Image is about 2.73 arcmin (19,850 light years) across
Category:  Galaxies, Groups and Clusters of Galaxies
Coordinates (J2000):  RA 12h 30m 31.2s | Dec +41° 39' 00"
Constellation:  Canes Venatici
Observation Dates:  2 pointings, Jul 29 and Nov 20, 2004
Observation Time:  21 hours 42 minutes
Obs. IDs:  4725, 4726
Instrument:  ACIS
Color Code:  X-ray: purple; Optical: red, green, blue
Distance Estimate  About 25 million light years
distance arrow


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