chandra x ray observatory

Five Famous Pulsars from the Past 50 Years

Early astronomers faced an obstacle: their technology. These great minds only had access to telescopes that revealed celestial bodies shining in visible light. Later, with the development of new detectors, scientists opened their eyes to other types of light like radio waves and X-rays. They realized cosmic objects look very different when viewed in these additional wavelengths. Pulsars — rapidly spinning stellar corpses that appear to pulse at us — are a perfect example.

The first pulsar was observed 50 years ago on August 6, 1967, using radio waves, but since then we have studied them in nearly all wavelengths of light, including X-rays and gamma rays.

Typical Pulsar

Most pulsars form when a star — between 8 and 20 times the mass of our sun — runs out of fuel and its core collapses into a super dense and compact object: a neutron star

These neutron stars are about the size of a city and can rotate slowly or quite quickly, spinning anywhere from once every few hours to hundreds of times per second. As they whirl, they emit beams of light that appear to blink at us from space.

First Pulsar

One day five decades ago, a graduate student at the University of Cambridge, England, named Jocelyn Bell was poring over the data from her radio telescope - 120 meters of paper recordings.

Image Credit: Sumit Sijher

She noticed some unusual markings, which she called “scruff,” indicating a mysterious object (simulated above) that flashed without fail every 1.33730 seconds. This was the very first pulsar discovered, known today as PSR B1919+21.

Best Known Pulsar

Before long, we realized pulsars were far more complicated than first meets the eye — they produce many kinds of light, not only radio waves. Take our galaxy’s Crab Nebula, just 6,500 light years away and somewhat of a local celebrity. It formed after a supernova explosion, which crushed the parent star’s core into a neutron star. 

The resulting pulsar, nestled inside the nebula that resulted from the supernova explosion, is among the most well-studied objects in our cosmos. It’s pictured above in X-ray light, but it shines across almost the entire electromagnetic spectrum, from radio waves to gamma rays.

Brightest Gamma-ray Pulsar

Speaking of gamma rays, in 2015 our Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope discovered the first pulsar beyond our own galaxy capable of producing such high-energy emissions. 

Located in the Tarantula Nebula 163,000 light-years away, PSR J0540-6919 gleams nearly 20 times brighter in gamma-rays than the pulsar embedded in the Crab Nebula.

Dual Personality Pulsar

No two pulsars are exactly alike, and in 2013 an especially fast-spinning one had an identity crisis. A fleet of orbiting X-ray telescopes, including our Swift and Chandra observatories, caught IGR J18245-2452 as it alternated between generating X-rays and radio waves. 

Scientists suspect these radical changes could be due to the rise and fall of gas streaming onto the pulsar from its companion star.

Transformer Pulsar

This just goes to show that pulsars are easily influenced by their surroundings. That same year, our Fermi Gamma Ray Space Telescope uncovered another pulsar, PSR J1023+0038, in the act of a major transformation — also under the influence of its nearby companion star. 

The radio beacon disappeared and the pulsar brightened fivefold in gamma rays, as if someone had flipped a switch to increase the energy of the system. 

NICER Mission

Our Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) mission, launched this past June, will study pulsars like those above using X-ray measurements.

With NICER’s help, scientists will be able to gaze even deeper into the cores of these dense and mysterious entities.

For more information about NICER, visit

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The cosmic swirl of giant waves in an enormous reservoir of glowing hot gas are visible in this enhanced X-ray image from the Chandra Observatory. The frame spans over 1 million light-years across the center of the nearby Perseus Galaxy Cluster. With temperatures in the tens of millions of degrees, the gas glows brightly in X-rays. Computer simulations can reproduce details of the structures sloshing through the Perseus cluster’s X-ray hot gas, including the remarkable concave bay seen below and left of center. About 200,000 light-years across, twice the size of the Milky Way, the bay’s formation indicates that Perseus itself was likely grazed by a smaller galaxy cluster billions of years ago.

Image Credit:  NASA, CXC, GSFC, Stephen Walker, et al.

Illusions in the Cosmic Clouds: Pareidolia is the psychological phenomenon where people see recognizable shapes in clouds, rock formations, or otherwise unrelated objects or data. There are many examples of this phenomenon on Earth and in space.

When an image from NASAs Chandra X-ray Observatory of PSR B1509-58 a spinning neutron star surrounded by a cloud of energetic particles was released in 2009, it quickly gained attention because many saw a hand-like structure in the X-ray emission.

In a new image of the system, X-rays from Chandra in gold are seen along with infrared data from NASAs Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer telescope in red, green and blue. Pareidolia may strike again as some people report seeing a shape of a face in WISEs infrared data. What do you see?

NASAs Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, also took a picture of the neutron star nebula in 2014, using higher-energy X-rays than Chandra.

PSR B1509-58 is about 17,000 light-years from Earth.

JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the WISE mission for NASA. NASAs Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the Chandra program for. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, controls Chandras science and flight operations.

Image Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO; Infrared: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Black Hole Sculpts an Hourglass Galaxy

When it comes to galaxies, our home, the Milky Way, is rather neat and orderly. Other galaxies can be much more chaotic. For example, the Markarian 573 galaxy has a black hole at its center which is spewing beams of light in opposite directions, giving its inner regions more of an hourglass shape. 

Our scientists have long been fascinated by this unusual structure, seen above in optical light from the Hubble Space Telescope. Now their search has taken them deeper than ever — all the way into the super-sized black hole at the center of one galaxy.

So, what do we think is going on? When the black hole gobbles up matter, it releases a form of high-energy light called radiation (particularly in the form of X-rays), causing abnormal patterns in the flow of gas. 

Let’s take a closer look.

Meet Markarian 573, the galaxy at the center of this image from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, located about 240 million light-years away from Earth in the constellation Cetus. It’s the galaxy’s odd structure and the unusual motions of its components that inspire our scientists to study it.

As is the case with other so-called active galaxies, the ginormous black hole at the center of Markarian 573 likes to eat stuff. A thick ring of dust and gas accumulates around it, forming a doughnut. This ring only permits light to escape the black hole in two cone-shaped regions within the flat plane of the galaxy — and that’s what creates the hourglass, as shown in the illustration above.

Zooming out, we can see the two cones of emission (shown in gold in the animation above) spill into the galaxy’s spiral arms (blue). As the galaxy rotates, gas clouds in the arms sweep through this radiation, which makes them light up so our scientists can track their movements from Earth.

What happens next depends on how close the gas is to the black hole. Gas that’s about 2,500 light-years from the black hole picks up speed and streams outward (shown as darker red and blue arrows). Gas that’s farther from the black hole also becomes ionized, but is not driven away and continues its motion around the galaxy as before.

Here is an actual snapshot of the inner region of Markarian 573, combining X-ray data (blue) from our Chandra X-ray Observatory and radio observations (purple) from the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array in New Mexico with a visible light image (gold) from our Hubble Space Telescope. Given its strange appearance, we’re left to wonder: what other funky shapes might far-off galaxies take?

For more information about the bizarre structure of Markarian 573, visit  

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boom-kaka-laka  asked:

Hey :) I don't want to be annoying or anything but I was wondering if you could recommend some books or websites were I could learn more about space.. I have huge interest in it but I don't really know much about anything from the astro field >_<

Since space always has a bunch of crazy shit going on in it, I’ll just take a bunch of random bookmarked links I have and throw them at you!

Books:Videos:Space Image Galleries: Cool Online Programs:Random Articles:

The Arrhythmic Beating of a Black Hole Heart : At the center of the Centaurus galaxy cluster, there is a large elliptical galaxy called NGC 4696. Deeper still, there is a supermassive black hole buried within the core of this galaxy. New data from NASAs Chandra X-ray Observatory and other telescopes has revealed details about this giant black hole.


Crab Nebula in technicolor! This new composite view combines data from five different telescopes, showing the celestial object in multiple kinds of light.

The video starts with a composite image of the Crab Nebula, a supernova remnant that was assembled by combining data from five telescopes spanning nearly the entire breadth of the electromagnetic spectrum: the Very Large Array, the Spitzer Space Telescope, the Hubble Space Telescope, the XMM-Newton Observatory, and the Chandra X-ray Observatory. 

It then dissolves to the red-colored radio-light view that shows how a neutron star’s fierce “wind” of charged particles from the central neutron star energized the nebula, causing it to emit the radio waves. 

The yellow-colored infrared image includes the glow of dust particles absorbing ultraviolet and visible light. 

The green-colored Hubble visible-light image offers a very sharp view of hot filamentary structures that permeate this nebula. 

The blue-colored ultraviolet image and the purple-colored X-ray image shows the effect of an energetic cloud of electrons driven by a rapidly rotating neutron star at the center of the nebula.

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Flying Observatory Has Big Plans for New Zealand

Our flying observatory, called SOFIA, carries a 100-inch telescope inside a Boeing 747SP aircraft. Scientists onboard study the life cycle of stars, planets (including the atmospheres of Pluto and Jupiter), nearby planetary systems, galaxies, black holes and complex molecules in space.

Flying South

Usually based in California, SOFIA and its team are returning to the Southern Hemisphere to study objects that aren’t visible from the Northern Hemisphere and to take advantage of the long winter nights. The team operates from Christchurch, New Zealand, regularly between June and August and continues with more big plans for this year.

Working with New Horizons 

Our SOFIA and New Horizons teams are working together again, to learn more about the next object that the New Horizons spacecraft will fly past, Kuiper Belt Object 2014 MU69, or MU69. This will be the farthest object ever encountered by any spacecraft, but little is known about it. Our team on SOFIA will be searching for possible debris around MU69 that could damage the spacecraft and will measure its size, helping the New Horizons team plan their next flyby.

How We Study Distant Celestial Objects from Earth

Our SOFIA team will study MU69 on July 10, 2017, well before New Horizons arrives in January 2019. We can study this distant object from Earth by flying in the faint shadow that it will cast on Earth’s surface as it passes in front of a star. SOFIA will fly directly into the center of this shadow as it moves across the Pacific Ocean. From inside the shadow, the team onboard will study how the light from the star changes as MU69 passes in front it, allowing them to measure its size and to establish if there are any rings or debris around it. The observations will work in the same way that we studied Pluto using SOFIA two weeks before New Horizon’s Pluto Flyby in 2015.

Observing Other Galaxies

The Magellanic Clouds are neighboring galaxies to our own Milky Way Galaxy. We’re studying how stars are forming in the Large and Small Magellanic clouds to compare those processes to star formation in our own galaxy. The Magellanic Clouds are best observed from the southern hemisphere.

And Supernova 1987A

Inside the Large Magellanic Cloud is Supernova 1987A, the closest supernova explosion witnessed in almost 400 years. Our team onboard SOFIA will continue studying this supernova to better understand the material expanding out from it, which may become the building blocks of future stars and planets. Many of our telescopes have studied Supernova 1987A, including the Hubble Space Telescope, the Chandra X-ray Observatory and SOFIA’s predecessor, the Kuiper Airborne Observatory, but the instruments on SOFIA are the only tools we can use to study the debris around it at infrared wavelengths, to better understand characteristics of the dust that cannot be measured using other wavelengths of light.

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NGC 1232
Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Huntingdon Inst. for X-ray Astronomy/G.Garmire, Optical: ESO/VLT

Observations with NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory have revealed a massive cloud of multimillion-degree gas in a galaxy about 60 million light years from Earth. The hot gas cloud is likely caused by a collision between a dwarf galaxy and a much larger galaxy called NGC 1232. If confirmed, this discovery would mark the first time such a collision has been detected only in X-rays, and could have implications for understanding how galaxies grow through similar collisions.

Astronomers have discovered what happens when the eruption from a supermassive black hole is swept up by the collision and merger of two galaxy clusters. This composite image contains X-rays from Chandra (blue), radio emission from the GMRT (red), and optical data from Subaru (red, green, and blue) of the colliding galaxy clusters called Abell 3411 and Abell 3412. These and other telescopes were used to analyze how the combination of these two powerful phenomena can create an extraordinary cosmic particle accelerator.

Image credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO/R. van Weeren et al; Optical: NAOJ/Subaru; Radio: NCRA/TIFR/GMRT/ Chandra X-ray Observatory

Infrared, X-ray & Optical Images of Centaurus A

Centaurus A is the fifth brightest galaxy in the sky – making it an ideal target for amateur astronomers – and is famous for the dust lane across its middle and a giant jet blasting away from the supermassive black hole at its center.  Cen A is an active galaxy about 12 million light years from Earth.

Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO; Optical: Rolf Olsen; Infrared: NASA/JPL-Caltech


This composite NASA image of the spiral galaxy M81, located about 12 million light years away, includes X-ray data from the Chandra X-ray Observatory (blue), optical data from the Hubble Space Telescope (green), infrared data from the Spitzer Space Telescope (pink) and ultraviolet data from GALEX (purple). The inset shows a close-up of the Chandra image. At the center of M81 is a supermassive black hole that is about 70 million times more massive than the Sun.

A new study using data from Chandra and ground-based telescopes, combined with detailed theoretical models, shows that the supermassive black hole in M81 feeds just like stellar mass black holes, with masses of only about ten times that of the Sun. This discovery supports the implication of Einstein’s relativity theory that black holes of all sizes have similar properties, and will be useful for predicting the properties of a conjectured new class of black holes.

In addition to Chandra, three radio arrays (the Giant Meterwave Radio Telescope, the Very Large Array and the Very Long Baseline Array), two millimeter telescopes (the Plateau de Bure Interferometer and the Submillimeter Array), and Lick Observatory in the optical were used to monitor M81. These observations were made simultaneously to ensure that brightness variations because of changes in feeding rates did not confuse the results. Chandra is the only X-ray satellite able to isolate the faint X-rays of the black hole from the emission of the rest of the galaxy.

The supermassive black hole in M81 generates energy and radiation as it pulls gas in the central region of the galaxy inwards at high speed. Therefore, the model that Markoff and her colleagues used to study the black holes includes a faint disk of material spinning around the black hole. This structure would mainly produce X-rays and optical light. A region of hot gas around the black hole would be seen largely in ultraviolet and X-ray light. A large contribution to both the radio and X-ray light comes from jets generated by the black hole. Multiwavelength data is needed to disentangle these overlapping sources of light.


New Insights Into the Crab Nebula

Five observatories teamed up to spy on the Crab Nebula and the results are incredible. The VLA (radio) views are shown in red; Spitzer Space Telescope (infrared) in yellow; Hubble Space Telescope (visible) in green; XMM-Newton (ultraviolet) in blue; and Chandra X-ray Observatory (X-ray) in purple.

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