Posts Tagged Chandra X-ray Observatory

A Planetary Nebula Gallery..

This gallery shows four planetary nebulas from the first systematic survey of such objects in the solar neighborhood made with NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory. The planetary nebulas shown here are NGC 6543, also known as the Cat’s Eye, NGC 7662, NGC 7009 and NGC 6826. In each case, X-ray emission from Chandra is colored purple and optical emission from the Hubble Space Telescope is colored red, green and blue.

In the first part of this survey, published in a new paper, twenty one planetary nebulas within about 5000 light years of the Earth have been observed. The paper also includes studies of fourteen other planetary nebulas, within the same distance range, that Chandra had already observed.

A planetary nebula represents a phase of stellar evolution that the sun should experience several billion years from now. When a star like the sun uses up all of the hydrogen in its core, it expands into a red giant, with a radius that increases by tens to hundreds of times. In this phase, a star sheds most of its outer layers, eventually leaving behind a hot core that will soon contract to form a dense white dwarf star. A fast wind emanating from the hot core rams into the ejected atmosphere, pushes it outward, and creates the graceful, shell-like filamentary structures seen with optical telescopes.

The diffuse X-ray emission seen in about 30% of the planetary nebulas in the new Chandra survey, and all members of the gallery, is caused by shock waves as the fast wind collides with the ejected atmosphere. The new survey data reveal that the optical images of most planetary nebulas with diffuse X-ray emission display compact shells with sharp rims, surrounded by fainter halos. All of these compact shells have observed ages that are less than about 5000 years, which therefore likely represents the timescale for the strong shock waves to occur.

About half of the planetary nebulas in the study show X-ray point sources in the center, and all but one of these point sources show high energy X-rays that may be caused by a companion star, suggesting that a high frequency of central stars responsible for ejecting planetary nebulas have companions. Future studies should help clarify the role of double stars in determining the structure and evolution of planetary nebulas.

These results were published in the August 2012 issue of The Astronomical Journal. The first two authors are Joel Kastner and Rodolfo Montez Jr. of the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, accompanied by 23 co-authors.

NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., manages the Chandra program for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory controls Chandra’s science and flight operations from Cambridge, Mass.

Credits: X-ray: NASA/CXC/RIT/J.Kastner et al.; Optical: NASA/STScI

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Black Hole Caught in a Stellar Homicide..

This computer-simulated image shows gas from a star that is ripped apart by tidal forces as it falls into a black hole. Some of the gas also is being ejected at high speeds into space.

Using observations from telescopes in space and on the ground, astronomers gathered the most direct evidence yet for this violent process: a supermassive black hole shredding a star that wandered too close. NASA’s orbiting Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX) and the Pan-STARRS1 telescope on the summit of Haleakala in Hawaii were used to help to identify the stellar remains.

A flare in ultraviolet and optical light revealed gas falling into the black hole as well as helium-rich gas that was expelled from the system. When the star is torn apart, some of the material falls into the black hole, while the rest is ejected at high speeds. The flare and its properties provide a signature of this scenario and give unprecedented details about the stellar victim.

To completely rule out the possibility of an active nucleus flaring up in the galaxy instead of a star being torn apart, the team used NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory to study the hot gas. Chandra showed that the characteristics of the gas didn’t match those from an active galactic nucleus.

The galaxy where the supermassive black hole ripped apart the passing star in known as PS1-10jh and is located about 2.7 billion light years from Earth. Astronomers estimate the black hole in PS1-10jh has a mass of several million suns, which is comparable to the supermassive black hole in our own Milky Way galaxy.

Image Credit: NASA, S. Gezari (The Johns Hopkins University), and J. Guillochon (University of California, Santa Cruz)

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Galaxies NGC 4342, NGC 4291..

Supermassive black holes in the centers of galaxies NGC 4342 and NGC 4291

New results based on the two objects shown here are challenging the prevailing ideas as to how supermassive black holes grow in the centers of galaxies. NGC 4342 and NGC 4291, the two galaxies in the study, are nearby in cosmic terms at distances of 75 million and 85 million light years respectively. In these composite images, X-rays from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory are colored blue, while infrared data from the 2MASS project are seen in red.

Astronomers had known from previous observations that these galaxies host black holes with unusually large masses compared to the mass contained in the central bulge of stars. To study the dark matter envelopes contained in each galaxy, Chandra was used to examine their hot gas content, which was found to be widespread in both objects.

By analyzing the distribution of the hot gas, researchers were able to test whether the galaxies had “lost weight” through stars being pulled away during a tidal encounter with another galaxy. Estimates of the pressure of the hot gas, which must balance the gravitational pull of all the matter in the galaxy, showed that massive envelopes of dark matter must exist around each galaxy. Since this tidal stripping would have severely depleted the dark matter, which is more loosely tied to the galaxies than the stars, this process is unlikely to have occurred in either galaxy.

The new results using NGC 4342 and NGC 4291 challenge the long-held idea that black holes at the centers of galaxies always grow in tandem with the bulges of stars that surround them. Rather this study suggests that the two supermassive black holes and their evolution are tied more closely to the amount and distribution of dark matter in each galaxy. In this picture the weights of the black hole and the dark matter envelope in these two galaxies are “normal” and the galaxies are underweight because they formed unusually slowly.

Credits: X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO/A.Bogdan et al; Infrared: 2MASS/UMass/IPAC-Caltech/NASA/NSF

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NASA Image of the Day Gallery. Pink Opaque..

An extraordinary outburst produced by a black hole in a nearby galaxy has provided direct evidence for a population of old, volatile stellar black holes. The discovery, made by astronomers using data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, provides new insight into the nature of a mysterious class of black holes that can produce as much energy in X-rays as a million suns radiate at all wavelengths.

Researchers used Chandra to discover a new ultraluminous X-ray source, or ULX. These objects give off more X-rays than most binary systems, in which a companion star orbits the remains of a collapsed star. These collapsed stars form either a dense core called a neutron star or a black hole. The extra X-ray emission suggests ULXs contain black holes that might be much more massive than the ones found elsewhere in our galaxy.

A paper describing these results will appear in the May 10, 2012, issue of The Astrophysical Journal.

Image Credits: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Curtin University/R. Soria et al., Optical: NASA/STScI/ Middlebury College/F. Winkler et al.

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A Star Explodes, Turns Inside-Out..

To the left, artist concept of inner layers of the star that formed supernova Cas A just before it exploded. To the right, an X ray image of Cas A.

A new X-ray study of the remains of an exploded star indicates that the supernova that disrupted the massive star may have turned it inside out in the process. Using very long observations of Cassiopeia A (or Cas A), a team of scientists has mapped the distribution of elements in the supernova remnant in unprecedented detail. This information shows where the different layers of the pre-supernova star are located three hundred years after the explosion, and provides insight into the nature of the supernova.

An artist’s illustration on the left shows a simplified picture of the inner layers of the star that formed Cas A just before it exploded, with the predominant concentrations of different elements represented by different colors: iron in the core (blue), overlaid by sulfur and silicon (green), then magnesium, neon and oxygen (red). The image from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory on the right uses the same color scheme to show the distribution of iron, sulfur and magnesium in the supernova remnant. The data show that the distributions of sulfur and silicon are similar, as are the distributions of magnesium and neon. Oxygen, which according to theoretical models is the most abundant element in the remnant, is difficult to detect because the X-ray emission characteristic of oxygen ions is strongly absorbed by gas in along the line of sight to Cas A, and because almost all the oxygen ions have had all their electrons stripped away.

A comparison of the illustration and the Chandra element map shows clearly that most of the iron, which according to theoretical models of the pre-supernova was originally on the inside of the star, is now located near the outer edges of the remnant. Surprisingly, there is no evidence from X-ray (Chandra) or infrared (Spitzer Space Telescope) observations for iron near the center of the remnant, where it was formed. Also, much of the silicon and sulfur, as well as the magnesium, is now found toward the outer edges of the still-expanding debris. The distribution of the elements indicates that a strong instability in the explosion process somehow turned the star inside out.

This latest work, which builds on earlier Chandra observations, represents the most detailed study ever made of X-ray emitting debris in Cas A, or any other supernova remnant resulting from the explosion of a massive star. It is based on a million seconds of Chandra observing time. Tallying up what they see in the Chandra data, astronomers estimate that the total amount of X-ray emitting debris has a mass just over three times that of the Sun. This debris was found to contain about 0.13 times the mass of the Sun in iron, 0.03 in sulfur and only 0.01 in magnesium.

The researchers found clumps of almost pure iron, indicating that this material must have been produced by nuclear reactions near the center of the pre-supernova star, where the neutron star was formed. That such pure iron should exist was anticipated because another signature of this type of nuclear reaction is the formation of the radioactive nucleus titanium-44, or Ti-44. Emission from Ti-44, which is unstable with a half-life of 63 years, has been detected in Cas A with several high-energy observatories including the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, BeppoSAX, and the International Gamma-Ray Astrophysics Laboratory (INTEGRAL).

These results appeared in the February 20th issue of The Astrophysical Journal in a paper by Una Hwang of Goddard Space Flight Center and Johns Hopkins University, and (John) Martin Laming of the Naval Research Laboratory.

Credits: Illustration: NASA/CXC/M.Weiss; Image: NASA/CXC/GSFC/U. Hwang & J. Laming

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Remnant of a Supernova..

Vital clues about the devastating ends to the lives of massive stars can be found by studying the aftermath of their explosions. In its more than twelve years of science operations, NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory has studied many of these supernova remnants sprinkled across the galaxy.

The latest example of this important investigation is Chandra’s new image of the supernova remnant known as G350.1+0.3. This stellar debris field is located some 14,700 light years from the Earth toward the center of the Milky Way.

Evidence from Chandra and from ESA’s XMM-Newton telescope suggest that a compact object within G350.1+0.3 may be the dense core of the star that exploded. The position of this likely neutron star, seen by the arrow pointing to “neutron star” in the inset image, is well away from the center of the X-ray emission. If the supernova explosion occurred near the center of the X-ray emission then the neutron star must have received a powerful kick in the supernova explosion.

Data suggest this supernova remnant, as it appears in the image, is 600 and 1,200 years old. If the estimated location of the explosion is correct, this means the neutron star has been moving at a speed of at least 3 million miles per hour since the explosion. 

Another intriguing aspect of G350.1+0.3 is its unusual shape. Many supernova remnants are nearly circular, but G350.1+0.3 is strikingly asymmetrical as seen in the Chandra data in this image (gold). Infrared data from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope (light blue) also trace the morphology found by Chandra. Astronomers think that this bizarre shape is due to stellar debris field expanding into a nearby cloud of cold molecular gas.

The age of 600-1,200 years puts the explosion that created G350.1+0.3 in the same time frame as other famous supernovas that formed the Crab and SN 1006 supernova remnants. However, it is unlikely that anyone on Earth would have seen the explosion because of the obscuring gas and dust that lies along our line of sight to the remnant.

These results appeared in the April 10, 2011 issue of The Astrophysical Journal

Image Credits: X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO/I. Lov

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El Gordo Galaxy Cluster..

A composite image shows El Gordo in X-ray light from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory in blue, along with optical data from the European Southern Observatory‘s Very Large Telescope *(VLT) in red, green, and blue, and infrared emission from the NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope in red and orange.

* VLT  Who knew? Here I thought VLT meant something a bit more exotic than JUST, “Very Large Telescope”?

X-ray data from Chandra reveal a distinct cometary appearance of El Gordo, including two “tails” extending to the upper right of the image. Along with the VLT’s optical data, this shows that El Gordo is, in fact, the site of two galaxy clusters running into one another at several million miles per hour. This and other characteristics make El Gordo akin to the well-known object called the Bullet Cluster, which is located almost 4 billion light years closer to Earth.

As with the Bullet Cluster, there is evidence that normal matter, mainly composed of hot, X-ray bright gas, has been wrenched apart from the dark matter in El Gordo. The hot gas in each cluster was slowed down by the collision, but the dark matter was not.

El Gordo is located over seven billion light years from Earth, meaning that it is being observed at a young age. According to the scientists involved in this study, this cluster of galaxies is the most massive, the hottest, and gives off the most X-rays of any known cluster at this distance or beyond.

The central galaxy in the middle of El Gordo is unusually bright and has surprisingly blue colors in optical wavelengths. The authors speculate that this extreme galaxy resulted from a collision and merger between the two galaxies at the center of each cluster.

Using Spitzer data and optical imaging it is estimated that about 1% of the total mass of the cluster is in stars, while the rest is found in the hot gas that fills the space between the stars and is detected by Chandra This ratio of stars to gas is similar with results from other massive clusters.

Credits: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Rutgers/J. Hughes et al; Optical: ESO/VLT & SOAR/Rutgers/F. Menanteau; IR: NASA/JPL/Rutgers/F. Menanteau

The Fat Man Galaxy

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Chandra..30 Doradus: The Growing Tarantula Within..

The star-forming region, 30 Doradus, is one of the largest located close to the Milky Way and is found in the neighboring galaxy Large Magellanic Cloud. About 2,400 massive stars in the center of 30 Doradus, also known as the Tarantula Nebula, are producing intense radiation and powerful winds as they blow off material.

Multimillion-degree gas detected in X-rays (blue) by the Chandra X-ray Observatory comes from shock fronts — similar to sonic booms –formed by these stellar winds and by supernova explosions. This hot gas carves out gigantic bubbles in the surrounding cooler gas and dust shown here in infrared emission from the Spitzer Space Telescope (orange).

30 Doradus is also known as an HII (pronounced “H-two”) region, created when the radiation from hot, young stars strips away the electrons from neutral hydrogen atoms (HI) to form clouds of ionized hydrogen (HII). It is the most massive and largest HII region in the Local Group of galaxies, which contains the Milky Way, Andromeda and about 30 other smaller galaxies including the two Magellanic Clouds. Because of its proximity and size, 30 Doradus is an excellent target for studying the effects of massive stars on the evolution of an HII region.

The Tarantula Nebula is expanding, and researchers have recently published two studies that attempt to determine what drives this growth. The most recent study concluded that the evolution and the large-scale structure of 30 Doradus is determined by the bubbles of hot, X-ray bright gas confined by surrounding gas, and that pressure from radiation generated by massive stars does not currently play an important role in shaping the overall structure. A study published earlier in 2011 came to the opposite conclusion and argued that radiation pressure is more important than pressure from hot gas in driving the evolution of 30 Doradus, especially in the central regions near the massive stars. More detailed analysis and deeper Chandra observations of 30 Doradus may help decide between these different ideas.

Credits: X-ray: NASA/CXC/PSU/L. Townsley et al.; Infrared: NASA/JPL/PSU/L. Townsley et al.

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