Posted on November 1st, 2016

Out of This World – Catching Some X-Rays

chandraThese six composite images put together with the help of the Chandra X-ray Telescope are only a small sampling of the X-ray information saved in the Chandra Data Archive accessible to the public. (Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO/Sejong Univ./Hur et al; Optical: NASA/STScI)

Archiving may seem like a tedious chore to many people as keeping records and making sure they are properly filed isn’t everyone’s idea of a good time. When you really stop to think about it you’ll realize how important this task really is. No one wants to reverse engineer a spacecraft because they lost the blueprints; or misplace a beautiful composite image of the Moon because the hard drive wasn’t backed up. So to celebrate American Archive Month, the Chandra X-ray Observatory released 6 new composite images captured by the system. The Chandra telescope detects light in the X-ray spectrum, allowing it to observe high-energy phenomenon’s throughout the Universe, like star clusters, pulsars and supernova remnants. Combining Chandra’s X-ray data with other satellites creates the most amazing composite images that are deserving of the archives.

Stars form inside thick clouds of interstellar dust. Nearly 20,000 light years away, Westerlund 2 is one such star cluster.
The newly created bright, pink-tinged stars are at the center of the cluster and create intense ultraviolet light and strong stellar winds that sweep away the surrounding clouds. The light from the visible spectrum picks up the clouds but cannot penetrate into their depths, as seen by the green and blue in this image taken from the Hubble Space Telescope. X-ray radiation can escape these hydrogen gas clouds and they are picked up by Chandra (displayed in purple).


Left: Westerlund 2 star factory is shown off in all its glory. (Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO/Sejong Univ./Hur et al; Optical: NASA/STScI) Right: Abell 665 shows off an impressive shock wave. (Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Univ. of Alabama/S.Dasadia et al, Radio: NSF/NRAO/VLA, Optical: SDSS)


As you can imagine the collision of galaxy clusters creates huge shock waves, one of the largest ever detected is from Abell 665. The shock wave itself is the white U-shaped object at the center of the image. The blue area is hot gas emitting high frequency X-rays captured by Chandra. The purple areas are radio emissions; while the Sloan Digital Sky Survey images are in the visible spectrum.

pulsarPulsar PSR J1509-5850 spins 12,000 light years from Earth is illuminated by the Chandra Telescope. (Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/George Washington Univ./N.Klingler et al; Optical: DSS; Radio: CSIRO/ATNF/ATCA)

Massive stars at the end of their life can go through a supernova explosion, blowing away their outer layers while the more central material is pulled in by gravity creating an extremely hot, dense neutron star. When neutron stars rotate they are called pulsars since we see them as specks of light that get brighter then fade out as they rotate. PSR J1509-5850 is one such pulsar; the bright, central area is the neutron star. The blue light streaming away from the neutron star is X-ray emissions imaged by Chandra, while particles seen here as radio emissions in pink, jet from the opposite side. The visible light image was supplied by the Digitized Sky Survey.

Chandra continues to support important research initiatives by peeling back another layer of the cosmic Universe and letting us peer into its depths. Hopefully Chandra will continue to provide us with fascinating imagery and data for the archives for many more years to come.

Katie Nelson
Geospatial Ninja
(303) 718-7163

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