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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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Observatories Combine to Crack Open the Crab Nebula

Astronomers have produced a highly detailed image of the Crab Nebula, by combining data from telescopes spanning nearly the entire breadth of the electromagnetic spectrum, from radio waves seen by the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) to the powerful X-ray glow as seen by the orbiting Chandra X-ray Observatory. And, in between that range of wavelengths, the Hubble Space Telescope’s crisp visible-light view, and the infrared perspective of the Spitzer Space Telescope.

The Crab Nebula, the result of a bright supernova explosion seen by Chinese and other astronomers in the year 1054, is 6,500 light-years from Earth. At its center is a super-dense neutron star, rotating once every 33 milliseconds, shooting out rotating lighthouse-like beams of radio waves and light – a pulsar (the bright dot at image center). The nebula’s intricate shape is caused by a complex interplay of the pulsar, a fast-moving wind of particles coming from the pulsar, and material originally ejected by the supernova explosion and by the star itself before the explosion.

This image combines data from five different telescopes: the VLA (radio) 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.

The new VLA, Hubble, and Chandra observations all were made at nearly the same time in November of 2012. A team of scientists led by Gloria Dubner of the Institute of Astronomy and Physics (IAFE), the National Council of Scientific Research (CONICET), and the University of Buenos Aires in Argentina then made a thorough analysis of the newly revealed details in a quest to gain new insights into the complex physics of the object. They are reporting their findings in the Astrophysical Journal.

“Comparing these new images, made at different wavelengths, is providing us with a wealth of new detail about the Crab Nebula. Though the Crab has been studied extensively for years, we still have much to learn about it,” Dubner said.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and ESA (European Space Agency). NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., in Washington.

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

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, manages the Spitzer Space Telescope for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at Caltech in Pasadena. Spacecraft operations are based at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, Littleton, Colorado. Data are archived at the Infrared Science Archive housed at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at Caltech. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

The National Radio Astronomy Observatory is a facility of the National Science Foundation, operated under cooperative agreement by Associated Universities, Inc.

IMAGE….In the summer of the year 1054 AD, Chinese astronomers saw a new “guest star,” that appeared six times brighter than Venus. So bright in fact, it could be seen during the daytime for several months.

This “guest star” was forgotten about until 700 years later with the advent of telescopes. Astronomers saw a tentacle-like nebula in the place of the vanished star and called it the Crab Nebula. Today we know it as the expanding gaseous remnant from a star that self-detonated as a supernova, briefly shining as brightly as 400 million suns. The explosion took place 6,500 light-years away. If the blast had instead happened 50 light-years away it would have irradiated Earth, wiping out most life forms.

In the late 1960s astronomers discovered the crushed heart of the doomed star, an ultra-dense neutron star that is a dynamo of intense magnetic field and radiation energizing the nebula. Astronomers therefore need to study the Crab Nebula across a broad range of electromagnetic radiation, from X-rays to radio waves.

This image combines data from five different telescopes: the VLA (radio) 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.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and ESA (European Space Agency). NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., in Washington, D.C.

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

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, manages the Spitzer Space Telescope for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at Caltech in Pasadena, California. Spacecraft operations are based at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, Littleton, Colorado. Data are archived at the Infrared Science Archive housed at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at Caltech. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

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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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XMM-Newton slew tracks

This blue ‘ball of string’ actually records 2114 movements made by ESA’s XMM-Newton space telescope as it shifted its gaze from one X-ray object to another between August 2001 and December 2014.

Orbiting in space since 1999, XMM-Newton is studying high-energy phenomena in the Universe, such as black holes, neutron stars, pulsars and stellar winds.

Even when moving its focus between objects, the space telescope collects scientific data, revealing X-ray sources across the entire sky. After correcting for overlaps between slews, 84% of the sky has now been covered.

The plot is in galactic coordinates such that the centre of the plot corresponds to the centre of the Milky Way. The slew paths pass predominantly through the ecliptic poles, indicated by the density of overlapping slew paths to the top left and bottom right.

The image was created as part of the XMM-Newton Slew Survey Catalogue release in March 2017, and which was featured as our Space Science Image of the Week last month.

This week, many scientists studying the X-ray universe are meeting to discuss the latest in high-energy astrophysics, including discoveries from current X-ray missions, as well as expectations of future missions.

Over 5000 papers have been published on XMM-Newton results to date. Scientists are also looking forward to the next generation of X-ray satellite, such as ESA’s Athena, the Advanced Telescope for High-ENergy Astrophysics, which is expected to be launched towards the end of the next decade.

The Milky Way’s close neighbor, Andromeda, features a dominant source of high-energy X-ray emission, but its identity was mysterious until now. As reported in a new study, NASA’s NuSTAR (Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array) mission has pinpointed an object responsible for this high-energy radiation.

The object, called Swift J0042.6+4112, is a possible pulsar, the dense remnant of a dead star that is highly magnetized and spinning, researchers say. This interpretation is based on its emission in high-energy X-rays, which NuSTAR is uniquely capable of measuring. The object’s spectrum is very similar to known pulsars in the Milky Way.

It is likely in a binary system, in which material from a stellar companion gets pulled onto the pulsar, spewing high-energy radiation as the material heats up.

“We didn’t know what it was until we looked at it with NuSTAR,” said Mihoko Yukita, lead author of a study about the object, based at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. The study is published in The Astrophysical Journal.

This candidate pulsar is shown as a blue dot in a NuSTAR X-ray image of Andromeda (also called M31), where the color blue is chosen to represent the highest-energy X-rays. It appears brighter in high-energy X-rays than anything else in the galaxy.

The study brings together many different observations of the object from various spacecraft. In 2013, NASA’s Swift satellite reported it as a high-energy source, but its classification was unknown, as there are many objects emitting low energy X-rays in the region. The lower-energy X-ray emission from the object turns out to be a source first identified in the 1970s by NASA’s Einstein Observatory. Other spacecraft, such as NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and ESA’s XMM-Newton had also detected it. However, it wasn’t until the new study by NuSTAR, aided by supporting Swift satellite data, that researchers realized it was the same object as this likely pulsar that dominates the high energy X-ray light of Andromeda.

Traditionally, astronomers have thought that actively feeding black holes, which are more massive than pulsars, usually dominate the high-energy X-ray light in galaxies. As gas spirals closer and closer to the black hole in a structure called an accretion disk, this material gets heated to extremely high temperatures and gives off high-energy radiation. This pulsar, which has a lower mass than any of Andromeda’s black holes, is brighter at high energies than the galaxy’s entire black hole population.

Even the supermassive black hole in the center of Andromeda does not have significant high-energy X-ray emission associated with it. It is unexpected that a single pulsar would instead be dominating the galaxy in high-energy X-ray light.

“NuSTAR has made us realize the general importance of pulsar systems as X-ray-emitting components of galaxies, and the possibility that the high energy X-ray light of Andromeda is dominated by a single pulsar system only adds to this emerging picture,” said Ann Hornschemeier, co-author of the study and based at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland.

Andromeda is a spiral galaxy slightly larger than the Milky Way. It resides 2.5 million light-years from our own galaxy, which is considered very close, given the broader scale of the universe. Stargazers can see Andromeda without a telescope on dark, clear nights.

“Since we can’t get outside our galaxy and study it in an unbiased way, Andromeda is the closest thing we have to looking in a mirror,” Hornschemeier said.

NuSTAR is a Small Explorer mission led by Caltech and managed by JPL for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. NuSTAR was developed in partnership with the Danish Technical University and the Italian Space Agency (ASI). The spacecraft was built by Orbital Sciences Corp., Dulles, Virginia. NuSTAR’s mission operations center is at UC Berkeley, and the official data archive is at NASA’s High Energy Astrophysics Science Archive Research Center. ASI provides the mission’s ground station and a mirror archive. JPL is managed by Caltech for NASA.

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ASTROPHYSICISTS FROM THE LOMONOSOV MOSCOW STATE UNIVERSITY
HAVE STUDIED THE “REJUVENATING” PULSAR IN A NEIGHBORING GALAXY

Lomonosov Moscow State University scientists have published in the Astrophysical Journal the results of a study of the unique ultraslow pulsar XB091D. This neutron star is believed to have captured a companion only a million years ago and, since then, has been slowly restoring its rapid rotation. The young pulsar is located in one of the oldest globular star clusters in the Andromeda galaxy, where the cluster may once have been a dwarf galaxy.

Massive stars die young, exploding as bright supernovae. In this process, their outer layers of material are thrown off, and the core shrinks, usually becoming a compact and super-dense neutron star. Strongly magnetized, they rotate rapidly, making hundreds of revolutions per second, but they lose their rotational energy and slow down, emitting narrow beams of particles. They radiate a focused radio emission that periodically passes the Earth, creating the effect of a regularly pulsating source, often with a millisecond period.

In order to “return youth” and again accelerate its rotation, the pulsar can encounter an ordinary star. After teaming up to form a pair or a binary system, the neutron star begins to pull matter from the star, forming a hot accretion disk around itself. Closer to the neutron star, the gaseous disk is torn apart by the magnetic field of the neutron star, and the matter streams onto it, forming a “hot spot” – the temperature here reaches millions of degrees, and the spot radiates in X-rays. A rotating neutron star can then be seen as an X-ray pulsar as a beacon, while the matter that continues to fall on it gives an additional impulse, accelerating the rotation.

For some hundred thousand years – a mere blink in the history of the universe – the old pulsar, which has already slowed to one revolution every few seconds, can once again spin thousands of times faster. Such a rare moment was observed by a team of astrophysicists from the Lomonosov Moscow State University, jointly with colleagues from Italy and France. The X-ray pulsar known as XB091D, was discovered at the earliest stages of its “rejuvenation” and turns out to be the slowest rotating of all globular-cluster pulsars known to date. The neutron star completes one revolution in 1.2 seconds – more than ten times slower than the previous record holder. According to scientists, the acceleration of the pulsar began less than one million years ago.

The discovery was made using observations collected by the XMM-Newton space observatory between 2000 and 2013 and were combined by astronomers of the Lomonosov Moscow State University into an open online database. Access to information on approximately 50 billion X-ray photons has already allowed scientists from different countries to discover a number of previously unnoticed interesting objects. Among them was the pulsar XB091D, which was also noticed by another group of Italian astronomers who published their results several months ago. XB091D is only the second pulsar found outside of our galaxy and its nearest satellites, although two more such pulsars were subsequently detected using the same online catalog.

The results of the first complete analysis of the X-ray source XB091D are presented in an article published by Ivan Zolotukhin, a researcher at the Lomonosov Moscow State University, and his co-authors in The Astrophysical Journal.

“The detectors on XMM-Newton detect only one photon from this pulsar every five seconds. Therefore, the search for pulsars among the extensive XMM-Newton data can be compared to the search for a needle in a haystack, “ says Ivan Zolotukhin. – In fact, for this discovery we had to create completely new mathematical tools that allowed us to search and extract the periodic signal. Theoretically, there are many applications for this method, including those outside astronomy. “

Based on a total of 38 XMM-Newton observations, astronomers managed to characterize the XB091D system. The X-ray pulsar is about 1 million years old, the companion of the neutron star is an old star of moderate size (about four fifths the mass of the Sun). The binary system itself has a rotation period of 30.5 hours, and the neutron star spins once on its axis every 1.2 seconds. In about 50 thousand years, it will accelerate sufficiently to turn into a conventional millisecond pulsar.

However, it was not only orbital parameters that astronomers were able to observe, they were also able to determine the environment around XB091D. Ivan Zolotukhin and his colleagues showed that XB091D is located in the neighboring Andromeda galaxy, 2.5 million light-years away, amongst the stars of the extremely dense globular cluster B091D, where in a volume of only 90 light-years across, there are more millions of old faint stars. The cluster itself is estimated to be as much as 12 billion years old, so no recent supernovae resulting in the birth of a pulsar would have occurred.

“In our galaxy, no such slow X-ray pulsars are observed in hundred and fifty known globular clusters, because their cores are not big and dense enough to form close binary stars at sufficiently high rate” explains Ivan Zolotukhin. – This indicates that the B091D cluster core, with an extremely dense composition of stars in the XB091D is much larger than that of the usual cluster. So, we are dealing with a large and rather rare object – with a dense remnant of a small galaxy that the Andromeda galaxy once devoured. The density of the stars here, in a region that is about 2.5 light-years across, is about ten million times higher than in the vicinity of the Sun.”

According to scientists, it is the vast region of super-high density stars in the B091D cluster that allowed a neutron star to capture a companion about a million years ago and begin the process of acceleration and “rejuvenation.”

Hallan la primera estrella de neutrones de Andrómeda

Se encuentra a 2.537.000 años luz de la Tierra y junto con la Vía Láctea y la Galaxia del Triángulo, conforman las tres grandes galaxias espirales del Grupo Local. Ahora, tras décadas de búsqueda, un equipo de astrofísicos ha descubierto un objeto difícil de localizar en el universo: una estrella de neutrones. Este cadáver (o remanente) estelar ha sido localizado gracias al telescopio espacial XMM-Newton de la ESA.

La galaxia de Andrómeda es muy popular entre los astrónomos ya que es el objeto visible a simple vista más lejano de la Tierra y el más parecido a la Vía Láctea, lo que la convierten en un interesante laboratorio natural para los científicos. Durante décadas los telescopios han examinado al detalle todo el espectro electromagnético pero, hasta ahora, nunca había podido localizarse una estrella de neutrones.

Las estrellas de neutrones giran tan rápidamente que pueden incluso barrer pulsos regulares de radiación hacia la Tierra, como si de un faro cósmico se tratara, que puede “encenderse” y “apagarse” a medida que gira. Si “canibalizan” a alguna estrella vecina, la estrella de neutrones gira aún más rápido.

Los datos del telescopio de rayos X permitieron localizar la señal de una fuente inusual de una estrella de neutrones con un giro extremadamente rápido. Según los expertos, parece estar alimentándose de una estrella vecina que orbita cada 1,3 días, lo que le hace girar cada 1,2 segundos. Sin duda es inusual y exótica.

“Estábamos esperando detectar señales periódicas entre los objetos más brillantes de rayos X en Andrómeda, pero púlsares de rayos X brillantes tan persistentes como este siguen siendo un tanto peculiares. Buscamos a través de los datos de archivo de Andrómeda que abarca 2000-13, pero no fue hasta 2015 que finalmente fuimos capaces de identificar este objeto en la espiral exterior de la galaxia en sólo dos de las 35 mediciones”, explica Gian Luca Israel, coautor del estudio.

“Podría ser lo que llamamos un púlsar peculiar de rayos X de baja masa, pero necesitamos adquirir más observaciones del púlsar y su compañera para ayudar a determinar cuál es el escenario más probable”, comenta Paolo Esposito, coautor del trabajo.

El hallazgo ha sido publicado en la revista Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Do Black Holes Explode When They Die?

A new theory suggests that black holes might die by transforming into a ‘white hole,’ which theoretically behave in the exact opposite manner as a black hole - rather than sucking all matter in, a 'white hole’ spews it out.

The theory, as first reported by Nature.com, is based on the speculative quantum theory of gravity. Scientists believe it may help determine the great debate over black holes about whether they destroy the things they consume.

According to the theory, a 'white hole’ would explosively expel all the material consumed by a black hole.

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Oldest recorded supernova

This image combines data from four space telescopes to create a multi-wavelength view of all that remains of RCW 86, the oldest documented example of a supernova. Chinese astronomers witnessed the event in 185 A.D., documenting a mysterious “guest star” that remained in the sky for eight months. X-ray images from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton Observatory were combined to form the blue and green colors in the image. The X-rays show the interstellar gas that has been heated to millions of degrees by the passage of the shock wave from the supernova.

Infrared data from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and WISE, Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer, shown in yellow and red, reveal dust radiating at a temperature of several hundred degrees below zero, warm by comparison to normal dust in our Milky Way galaxy.

By studying the X-ray and infrared data, astronomers were able to determine that the cause of the explosion was a Type Ia supernova, in which an otherwise-stable white dwarf, or dead star, was pushed beyond the brink of stability when a companion star dumped material onto it. Furthermore, scientists used the data to solve another mystery surrounding the remnant - how it got to be so large in such a short amount of time. By blowing away wind prior to exploding, the white dwarf was able to clear out a huge “cavity,” a region of very low-density surrounding the system. The explosion into this cavity was able to expand much faster than it otherwise would have.

This is the first time that this type of cavity has been seen around a white dwarf system prior to explosion. Scientists say the results may have significant implications for theories of white-dwarf binary systems and Type Ia supernovae.

RCW 86 is approximately 8,000 light-years away. At about 85 light-years in diameter, it occupies a region of the sky in the southern constellation of Circinus that is slightly larger than the full moon. This image was compiled in October 2011.

Image credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO & ESA; Infared: NASA/JPL-Caltech/B. Williams (NCSU)

This artist’s conception shows how supermassive black holes at the cores of galaxies blast radiation and ultra-fast winds outward. New data from NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) and the European Space Agency’s (ESA’s) XMM-Newton telescopes show that these winds, containing gases of highly ionized atoms, blow in a nearly spherical fashion, emanating in every direction, as shown in the artwork. 

With the shape and extent of the winds known, the researchers were able to determine the winds’ strength. The high-speed winds are powerful enough to shut down star formation throughout a galaxy.

The artwork is based on an image of the Pinwheel galaxy (Messier 101) taken by the Hubble Space Telescope.

Rare white dwarf systems do a doubletake

For those of us who remain forever fascinated by astronomy, nothing could spark our imaginations more than a cosmic curiosity. In this case, the unusual object is a star cataloged as AM Canum Venaticorum (AM CVn) located in the constellation of Canes Venatici. What makes this dual star system of interest? Try the fact that the pair revolve completely around each other in a brief 18 minutes. What’s more, they are the stuff of which Einstein dreamed… creators of ripples in space-time known as gravitational waves.

Like other astronomical anomalies, AM CVn became the forerunner of a new class of stellar objects. It is a white dwarf, a sun-like star which has exhausted its fuel and collapsed to around the size of Earth. Yet it also has a white dwarf companion – a very compact orb which is delivering matter to its neighbor. AM Canum Venaticorum is not alone, however. There are similar systems where the stellar pairs complete their rotations in about an hour and even as rapidly as five minutes! Can you imagine the crackling amount of energy a system like this produces?!

Even though we have been aware of systems like AM CVn for almost five decades, no one is quite sure how they originate. Now, through the use of X-ray and optical observations, astronomers are taking a look at newly evolved double stars systems which one day might become a dueling duo dwarf. Heading their list are two binary systems, J0751 and J1741. These candidates were observed in the X-ray part of the electromagnetic spectrum by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and ESA’s XMM-Newton telescope. In addition, observations at optical wavelengths were made using the McDonald Observatory’s 2.1-meter telescope in Texas, and the Mt. John Observatory 1.0-meter telescope in New Zealand.

What’s happening here? As the pair of white dwarf stars whip around each other, they are releasing gravitational waves which constrict the orbit. In time, the heavier, diminutive dwarf will begin stripping material from its lighter, larger companion. This material consumption will continue for perhaps a 100 million years, or until the collected matter reaches a critical mass and releases a thermonuclear explosion.

Another scenario is the thermonuclear explosion could annihilate the larger white dwarf completely in what astronomers call a Type Ia supernova. An event like this is well-known and gives a measurement in standard candles for cosmic distance. However, chances are better the explosion will happen on the surface of the star – an event known as .Ia supernovae. While .Ia supernovae events have been recorded in other galaxies, J0751 and J1741 are the first binary stars which have the potential to erupt in .Ia supernovae.

“The optical observations were critical in identifying the two white dwarfs in these systems and ascertaining their masses. The X-ray observations were needed to rule out the possibility that J0751 and J1741 contained neutron stars.” says the Chandra team. “A neutron star – which would disqualify it from being a possible parent to an AM CVn system – would give off strong X-ray emission due to its magnetic field and rapid rotation. Neither Chandra nor XMM-Newton detected any X-rays from these systems.”

Are AM CVn systems riding the gravitational wave? While astronomers haven’t been able to detect them yet, these new observations are highly important because equipment to verify their presences is currently being developed. It won’t be long until we can see the wave and have a whole new way of looking at the Universe!

Extreme explosion

The electromagnetic spectrum is vast, ranging from high-energy gamma rays all the way to low-energy radio waves. Different telescopes and instruments are optimised to detect different regions of this spectrum — for example, ESA’s XMM-Newton and Integral space observatories study the high-energy Universe, scouring the skies for X-rays and gamma rays.

One cosmic source of such high-energy radiation is the phenomenon shown in this ESA artist’s impression as an ethereal blue glow: a gamma-ray burst.

These bursts are extraordinarily high-energy events, created when a star in a distant galaxy explodes at the end of its life. This produces an intense stream of gamma rays that can last from a few seconds to a few hours. This violent burst then fades away, leaving a fainter afterglow that can be seen at X-ray, optical and radio wavelengths.
ESA’s Integral observatory is capable of observing these intense initial bursts. However, the gamma-ray explosion itself is often very short-lived, making it extremely difficult to pinpoint and observe a burst as it happens. Luckily, Integral and XMM-Newton can also search for and observe the dimmer X-ray afterglow that follows, using it to trace both the composition and the location of a gamma-ray burst.

Gamma-ray bursts emit such an enormous amount of energy that, when at their peak, they are the brightest and most powerful phenomena in the Universe. The source of such an extraordinary amount of energy is still uncertain, but there are several theories: jets escaping from the turbulent environment around a forming black hole, the merging of two compact objects such as neutron stars, or a beam of energy from a hypernova – a very energetic type of supernova explosion following the death of an extremely massive star.

An average gamma-ray burst might last on the order of milliseconds to minutes, but astronomers recently discovered another class of ultra-long burst. These continue to spew out gamma-rays for several hours before settling down to an afterglow. Only a handful of these events have been identified, but they are likely caused by the demise of a specific type of star known as a blue supergiant.

Although relatively rare in the nearby Universe, these very massive stars are thought to have been commonplace in the early Universe, with most of the very first population of stars having evolved into them over the course of their lives. Understanding more about their extreme nature may give clues about the primordial Universe.

Image credit & copyright: ESA, illustration by ESA/ECF

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Record-Breaking Galaxy Cluster Confirms Dark Matter Universe

“But this new cluster is just 2.6 billion years old, and seems to be undergoing the very transition where a collection of galaxies falls into a bound structure for the first time, from a protocluster to a true galaxy cluster. This marks the first time astronomers have ever detected such an event: of the exact moment that a protocluster transitions to a true cluster. The fact that so many total galaxies (seventeen!) were discovered localized together at the same redshift (z=2.506) was a big hint, but the final piece of evidence came from the X-rays, where the diffuse emission engulfing the entire set of objects shows, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this really is a galaxy cluster!”

There was once a time early on in the Universe where there were no stars, no galaxies and no clusters of galaxies at all. While stars and galaxies form very early on, after only tens or hundreds of millions of years, it takes billions of years for the first clusters to form. Yet even if we were to look back into the Universe’s past up to ten billion years, the clusters we see are already well-evolved and quiet. We had never seen a set of galaxies fall in and actively form a cluster before. We’d never seen the protocluster/cluster transition before. And we’d never found one from when the Universe was between two and three billion years old: when our dark matter theory predicts the first great clusters ought to form. Until, that is, now.

Come see how the Chandra X-ray observatory just found a record-breaking cluster that confirms our greatest picture of the Universe’s history!

Light shines on new views: The year of 2015 has been declared the International Year of Light (IYL) by the United Nations. Organizations, institutions, and individuals involved in the science and applications of light will be joining together for this yearlong celebration to help spread the word about the wonders of light. In many ways, astronomy uses the science of light. And to celebrate, Nasa’s Chandra X-ray Observatory released new images. Here’s one of them: When X-rays, shown in blue, from Chandra and XMM-Newton are joined in this image with radio data from the Australia Telescope Compact Array (pink) and visible light data from the Digitized Sky Survey (DSS, yellow), a new view of the region emerges. This object, known as MSH 11-62, contains an inner nebula of charged particles that could be an outflow from the dense spinning core left behind when a massive star exploded.

Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO/P.Slane et al; Optical: DSS; Radio: CSIRO/ATNF/ATCA

Pulsar encased in supernova bubble

Massive stars end their lives with a bang: exploding as spectacular supernovas, they release huge amounts of mass and energy into space. These explosions sweep up any surrounding material, creating bubble remnants that expand into interstellar space. At the heart of bubbles like these are small, dense neutron stars or black holes, the remains of what once shone brightly as a star.

Since supernova-carved bubbles shine for only a few tens of thousands of years before dissolving, it is rare to come across neutron stars or black holes that are still enclosed within their expanding shell. This image captures such an unusual scene, featuring both a strongly magnetised, rotating neutron star – known as a pulsar – and its cosmic cloak, the remains of the explosion that generated it.

This pulsar, named SXP 1062, lies in the outskirts of the Small Magellanic Cloud, one of the satellite galaxies of our Milky Way galaxy. It is an object known as an X-ray pulsar: it hungrily gobbles up material from a nearby companion star and burps off X-rays as it does so. In the future, this scene may become even more dramatic, as SXP 1062 has a massive companion star that has not yet exploded as a supernova.

Most pulsars whirl around incredibly quickly, spinning many times per second. However, by exploring the expanding bubble around this pulsar and estimating its age, astronomers have noticed something intriguing: SXP 1062 seems to be rotating far too slowly for its age. It is actually one of the slowest pulsars known.

While the cause of this weird sluggishness is still a mystery, one explanation may be that the pulsar has an unusually strong magnetic field, which would slow the rotation.

The diffuse blue glow at the centre of the bubble in this image represents X-ray emission from both the pulsar and the hot gas that fills the expanding bubble. The other fuzzy blue objects visible in the background are extragalactic X-ray sources.

Image credit: ESA/XMM-Newton/ L. Oskinova/M. Guerrero; CTIO/R. Gruendl/Y.H. Chu

An X-ray view of the COSMOS field

When we gaze up at the night sky, we are only seeing part of the story. Unfortunately, some of the most powerful and energetic events in the Universe are invisible to our eyes – and to even the best optical telescopes.

Luckily, these events are not lost; they appear vividly in the high-energy sky, making them visible to space-based telescopes like ESA’s XMM-Newton, which observes the Universe in the X-ray part of the spectrum.
This image shows a patch of sky from the COSMOS survey, as viewed by XMM-Newton. COSMOS is a project studying how galaxies form and evolve, gathering observations using a variety of ground- and space-based telescopes. This image alone features about two thousand supermassive black holes, and over a hundred clusters of galaxies.

Small point sources dotted across the frame show supermassive black holes that are hungrily devouring matter from their surroundings. All massive galaxies host a black hole at their core, but not all of these are actively accreting, dragging in surrounding matter and releasing high-energy radiation and powerful jets in the process. As they are so energetic, one of the best ways to hunt these extreme bodies is by using X-ray telescopes.

The larger blobs in this image, mainly red and yellow, reveal another class of cosmic behemoths: galaxy clusters. Containing up to several thousand galaxies, galaxy clusters are the largest cosmic structures to be held together by gravity. The galaxies within these clusters are enveloped by hot gas, which releases a diffuse X-ray glow that can be detected by telescopes like XMM-Newton.

Image credit & copyright ESA/XMM-Newton/Gunther Hasinger, Nico Cappelluti, and the XMM-COSMOS collaboration.

(NASA)  Supernova Remnant Puppis A
Image Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/IAFE/ G. Dubner et al., ESA/XMM-Newton
Infrared: NASA/ESA/JPL-Caltech/GSFC/ R. Arendt et al.

Driven by the explosion of a massive star, supernova remnant Puppis A is blasting into the surrounding interstellar medium about 7,000 light-years away. At that distance, this remarkable false-color exploration of its complex expansion is about 180 light-years wide. It is based on the most complete X-ray data set so far from the Chandra and XMM/Newton observations, and infrared data from the Spitzer Space Telescope. In blue hues, the filamentary X-ray glow is from gas heated by the supernova’s shock wave, while the infrared emission shown in red and green is from warm dust. The bright pastel tones trace the regions where shocked gas and warmed dust mingle. Light from the initial supernova itself, triggered by the collapse of the massive star’s core, would have reached Earth about 3,700 years ago, though the Puppis A supernova remnant remains a strong source in the X-ray sky.

Supernova seen in two lights

The destructive results of a mighty supernova explosion reveal themselves in a delicate blend of infrared and X-ray light, as seen in this image from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and Chandra X-Ray Observatory, and the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton.

The bubbly cloud is an irregular shock wave, generated by a supernova that would have been witnessed on Earth 3,700 years ago. The remnant itself, called Puppis A, is around 7,000 light-years away, and the shock wave is about 10 light-years across.

The pastel hues in this image reveal that the infrared and X-ray structures trace each other closely. Warm dust particles are responsible for most of the infrared light wavelengths, assigned red and green colors in this view. Material heated by the supernova’s shock wave emits X-rays, which are colored blue. Regions where the infrared and X-ray emissions blend together take on brighter, more pastel tones.

The shock wave appears to light up as it slams into surrounding clouds of dust and gas that fill the interstellar space in this region.

From the infrared glow, astronomers have found a total quantity of dust in the region equal to about a quarter of the mass of our sun. Data collected from Spitzer’s infrared spectrograph reveal how the shock wave is breaking apart the fragile dust grains that fill the surrounding space.

Supernova explosions forge the heavy elements that can provide the raw material from which future generations of stars and planets will form. Studying how supernova remnants expand into the galaxy and interact with other material provides critical clues into our own origins.

Image credit: NASA/ESA/JPL-Caltech/GSFC/IAFE

Supernova remnant Puppis A

Driven by the explosion of a massive star, supernova remnant Puppis A is blasting into the surrounding interstellar medium about 7,000 light-years away. At that distance, this remarkable false-color exploration of its complex expansion is about 180 light-years wide. It is based on the most complete X-ray data set so far from the Chandra and XMM/Newton observations, and infrared data from the Spitzer Space Telescope. In blue hues, the filamentary X-ray glow is from gas heated by the supernova's shock wave, while the infrared emission shown in red and green is from warm dust. The bright pastel tones trace the regions where shocked gas and warmed dust mingle. Light from the initial supernova itself, triggered by the collapse of the massive star’s core, would have reached Earth about 3,700 years ago, though the Puppis A supernova remnant remains a strong source in the X-ray sky.

Image Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/IAFE/ G. Dubner et al., ESA/XMM-Newton 
Infrared: NASA/ESA/JPL-Caltech/GSFC/ R. Arendt et al.