It is time to celebrate the 15th birthday of one of my favorite space telescopes: the Chandra X-ray Observatory. To commemorate this event, NASA has released four new spectacular images of supernova remnants depicting the high-energy X-ray light coming from the aftermath of an exploded star. With the data collected by Chandra, astronomers have made great strides in understanding our Universe and deciphering the spectacular phenomenon that occur within it.
At the moment, Chandra is being used to help unravel the mystery of a gamma-ray burst that lasted an unprecedented 1.9 hours and the light from which has been traveling for 3.9 billion years. The length of the burst is clueing astronomers into the anatomy of what they believe to be a blue supergiant, and these may help astronomers detect some of the earliest stars in our Universe.
Star cluster formation theory has recently been revamped due to discoveries from Chandra. It was believed that stars form at the center of condensing, giant gas and dust clouds as material is pulled into the center of the cloud until it becomes dense enough to start star formation. In collaboration with NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, astronomers were able to estimate the age of stars in the Orion Nebula and NGC 2024; and they found that the stars on the outskirts of the clusters were older then those at the center. Scientist are now reassessing their preconceived ideas as to how these stars formed.
Even black holes are scrutinized by Chandra, helping astronomers effectively estimate the mass of these objects, but their other prominent feature, spin, has been more elusive. With Chandra’s X-ray readings, scientist were able to estimate the spin of a black hole that is 6 billion light years away; previously, the most distant measurement of a black hole was 4.7 billion light years.
Along with assisting scientists in making great headway into understanding our Universe, Chandra has also captured rare and beautiful moments in space. The Chandra Data Archive (CDA) houses a vast amount of data from the telescope that is available to researchers and the public. Even as new telescopes replace old ones, the CDA and similar archives leave a legacy of data that scientists will use for decades. Once new telescopes with finer instruments launch and collect data, these older archives will serve as a baseline and comparative dataset.