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Tour: NASA's Chandra, Webb Combine for Arresting Views

Four composite images deliver dazzling views from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and James Webb Space Telescope of two galaxies, a nebula, and a star cluster. Each image combines Chandra’s X-rays — a form of high-energy light — with infrared data from previously released Webb images. Data from the Hubble Space Telescope and retired Spitzer Space Telescope, plus ESA’s XMM-Newton and the ESO’s New Technology Telescope is also used. While most of these wavelengths of light are invisible to the human eye, the data have been mapped to colors so we can explore these cosmic wonders and details within. The data in these images have been released to the public before, but this is the first time they have been combined in this way.

The images include NGC 346, a star cluster in a nearby galaxy, the Small Magellanic Cloud, about 200,000 light-years from Earth. Webb shows plumes and arcs of gas and dust that stars and planets use as source material during their formation. The purple cloud on the left seen with Chandra is the remains of a supernova explosion from a massive star. The Chandra data also reveals young, hot, and massive stars that send powerful winds outward from their surfaces.

NGC 1672 is a spiral galaxy, but one that astronomers categorize as a “barred” spiral. In regions close to their centers, the arms of barred spiral galaxies are mostly in a straight band of stars across the center that encloses the core, as opposed to other spirals that have arms that twist all the way to their core. The Chandra data reveals compact objects like neutron stars or black holes pulling material from companion stars as well as the remnants of exploded stars.

Messier 16, also known as the Eagle Nebula, is a famous region of the sky often referred to as the “Pillars of Creation.” The Webb image shows the dark columns of gas and dust shrouding the few remaining fledgling stars just being formed. The Chandra sources, which look like dots, are young stars that give off copious amounts of X-rays.

Messier 74 is also a spiral galaxy — like our Milky Way — that we see face-on from our vantage point on Earth. It is about 32 million light-years away. In the composite, Webb outlines gas and dust in the infrared while Chandra data spotlights high-energy activity from stars at X-ray wavelengths. Hubble optical data showcases additional stars and dust along the dust lanes.

We look forward to many more new images from Chandra data and its companion telescopes both in space and on the ground as this exciting era of astronomy continues.

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