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The Case of the Missing Supernova Companion January 12, 2012

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See Explanation. Moving the cursor over the image will bring up an annotated version. Clicking on the image will bring up the highest resolution version available.

Image Credit: 

X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO/J. Hughes et al., Optical: NASA/ESA/Hubble Heritage Team (STScI /AURA)

Explanation: 

Where’s the other star? At the center of this supernova remnant should be the companion star to the star that blew up. Identifying this star is important for understanding just how Type Ia supernova detonate, which in turn could lead to a better understanding of why the brightness of such explosions are so predictable, which in turn is key to calibrating the entire nature of our universe. The trouble is that even a careful inspection of the center of SNR 0509-67.5 has not found any star at all. This indicates that the companion is intrinsically very faint — much more faint that many types of bright giant stars that had been previous candidates. In fact, the implication is that the companion star might have to be a faint white dwarf, similar to — but less massive than — the star that detonated. SNR 0509-67.5 is shown above in both visible light, shining in red as imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope, and X-ray light, shown in false-color green as imaged by the Chandra X-ray Observatory. Putting your cursor over the picture will highlight the central required location for the missing companion star.

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Arp 147: Giant Ring of Black Holes February 10, 2011

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Arp 147
Credit:

X-ray: NASA/CXC/MIT/S.Rappaport et al, Optical: NASA/STSc

Description:

Just in time for Valentine’s Day comes a new image of a ring — not of jewels — but of black holes. This composite image of Arp 147, a pair of interacting galaxies located about 430 million light years from Earth, shows X-rays from the NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory (pink) and optical data from the Hubble Space Telescope (red, green, blue) produced by the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Md.

Arp 147 contains the remnant of a spiral galaxy (right) that collided with the elliptical galaxy on the left. This collision has produced an expanding wave of star formation that shows up as a blue ring containing in abundance of massive young stars. These stars race through their evolution in a few million years or less and explode as supernovas, leaving behind neutron stars and black holes.

A fraction of the neutron stars and black holes will have companion stars, and may become bright X-ray sources as they pull in matter from their companions. The nine X-ray sources scattered around the ring in Arp 147 are so bright that they must be black holes, with masses that are likely ten to twenty times that of the Sun.

An X-ray source is also detected in the nucleus of the red galaxy on the left and may be powered by a poorly-fed supermassive black hole. This source is not obvious in the composite image but can easily be seen in the X-ray image. Other objects unrelated to Arp 147 are also visible: a foreground star in the lower left of the image and a background quasar as the pink source above and to the left of the red galaxy.

Infrared observations with NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and ultraviolet observations with NASA’s Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX) have allowed estimates of the rate of star formation in the ring. These estimates, combined with the use of models for the evolution of binary stars have allowed the authors to conclude that the most intense star formation may have ended some 15 million years ago, in Earth’s time frame.

X-ray, Optical, Infrared and UV Image
X-ray, Optical, Infrared and UV Image

These results were published in the October 1st, 2010 issue of The Astrophysical Journal. The authors were Saul Rappaport and Alan Levine from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, David Pooley from Eureka Scientific and Benjamin Steinhorn, also from MIT.

Henize 2-10: A Surprisingly Close Look at the Early Cosmos January 29, 2011

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Credit:

X-ray (NASA/CXC/Virginia/A.Reines et al); Radio (NRAO/AUI/NSF); Optical (NASA/STScI)

Description:

The combined observations from multiple telescopes of Henize 2-10, a dwarf starburst galaxy located about 30 million light years from Earth, has provided astronomers with a detailed new look at how galaxy and black hole formation may have occured in the early Universe. This image shows optical data from the Hubble Space Telescope in red, green and blue, X-ray data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory in purple, and radio data from the National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s Very Large Array in yellow. A compact X-ray source at the center of the galaxy coincides with a radio source, giving evidence for an actively growing supermassive black hole with a mass of about one million times that of the Sun (please roll your mouse over the image for the location of the black hole).

Stars are forming in Henize 2-10 at a prodigious rate, giving the star clusters in this galaxy their blue appearance. This combination of a burst of star formation and a massive black hole is analogous to conditions in the early Universe. Since Henize 2-10 does not contain a significant bulge of stars in its center, these results show that supermassive black hole growth may precede the growth of bulges in galaxies. This differs from the relatively nearby Universe where the growth of galaxy bulges and supermassive black holes appears to occur in parallel.

A paper describing these results was published online in Nature on January 9th, 2011 by Amy Reines and Gregory Sivakoff of the University of Virginia, Kelsey Johnson of the University of Virginia and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) in Charlottesville, Virginia and Crystal Brogan also of NRAO in Virgina.

Stephan’s Quintet: A Galaxy Collision in Action July 12, 2009

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Stephan's Quintet

Credit:

X-ray (NASA/CXC/CfA/E.O’Sullivan); Optical (Canada-France-Hawaii-Telescope/Coelum)

Description:

This beautiful image gives a new look at Stephan’s Quintet, a compact group of galaxies discovered about 130 years ago and located about 280 million light years from Earth. The curved, light blue ridge running down the center of the image shows X-ray data from the Chandra X-ray Observatory. Four of the galaxies in the group are visible in the optical image (yellow, red, white and blue) from the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope. A labeled version identifies these galaxies (NGC 7317, NGC 7318a, NGC 7318b and NGC 7319) as well as a prominent foreground galaxy (NGC 7320) that is not a member of the group. The galaxy NGC 7318b is passing through the core of galaxies at almost 2 million miles per hour, and is thought to be causing the ridge of X-ray emission by generating a shock wave that heats the gas.

Additional heating by supernova explosions and stellar winds has also probably taken place in Stephan’s Quintet. A larger halo of X-ray emission – not shown here – detected by ESA’s XMM-Newton could be evidence of shock-heating by previous collisions between galaxies in this group. Some of the X-ray emission is likely also caused by binary systems containing massive stars that are losing material to neutron stars or black holes.

Stephan’s Quintet provides a rare opportunity to observe a galaxy group in the process of evolving from an X-ray faint system dominated by spiral galaxies to a more developed system dominated by elliptical galaxies and bright X-ray emission. Being able to witness the dramatic effect of collisions in causing this evolution is important for increasing our understanding of the origins of the hot, X-ray bright halos of gas in groups of galaxies.

Stephan’s Quintet shows an additional sign of complex interactions in the past, notably the long tails visible in the optical image. These features were probably caused by one or more passages through the galaxy group by NGC 7317.

RCW 86: A Super-Efficient Particle Accelerator July 3, 2009

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RCW 86
Credit:

Optical: ESO/E. Helder; X-ray: NASA/CXC/Univ. of Utrecht/J.Vink et al.

Description:

Using Chandra, growing supermassive black holes have been discovered in a sample of blobs, immense reservoirs of hydrogen gas located in the early Universe.These black holes and bursts of star formation are believed to be illuminating and heating the gas in the blobs. This represents a “coming of age” for the galaxies and black holes as they start to switch off their rapid growth.
This image of data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope shows a part of the roughly circular supernova remnant known as RCW 86. This remnant is the remains of an exploded star, which may have been observed on Earth in 185 AD by Chinese astronomers. By studying this remnant, a team of astronomers was able to understand new details about the role of supernova remnants as the Milky Way’s super-efficient particle accelerators. The team shows that the shock wave visible in this area is very efficient at accelerating particles and the energy used in this process matches the number of cosmic rays observed on Earth.

The VLT data (colored red in the composite) was used to measure the temperature of the gas right behind the shock wave created by the stellar explosion. Using X-ray images from Chandra (blue), taken three years apart, the researchers were also able to determine the speed of the shock wave to be between one and three percent of the speed of light. The temperature found by these latest results is much lower than expected, given the measured shock wave’s velocity. The researchers conclude that the missing energy goes into accelerating the cosmic rays.

A New View of Tycho’s Supernova Remnant March 11, 2009

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Tycho's Supernova Remnant
Credit:

X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO, Infrared: NASA/JPL-Caltech; Optical: MPIA, Calar Alto, O.Krause et al.

Description:

This composite image of the Tycho supernova remnant combines X-ray and infrared observations obtained with NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and Spitzer Space Telescope, respectively, and the Calar Alto observatory, Spain. It shows the scene more than four centuries after the brilliant star explosion witnessed by Tycho Brahe and other astronomers of that era.

The explosion has left a blazing hot cloud of expanding debris (green and yellow) visible in X-rays. The location of ultra-energetic electrons in the blast’s outer shock wave can also be seen in X-rays (the circular blue line). Newly synthesized dust in the ejected material and heated pre-existing dust from the area around the supernova radiate at infrared wavelengths of 24 microns (red). Foreground and background stars in the image are white.

Oliver Krause, from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany, recently studied reflected light from the supernova explosion seen by Brahe. Use of these “light echoes” – not shown in this figure – has confirmed previous suspicions that the explosion was a Type Ia supernova. This type of supernova is generally believed to be caused by the explosion of a white dwarf star in a binary star system.

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PSR J0108-1431: Geriatric Pulsar Still Kicking March 10, 2009

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PSR J0108-1431
Credit:

X-ray: NASA/CXC/Penn State/G.Pavlov et al.; Optical: ESO/VLT/UCL/R.Mignani et al.; Illustration: NASA/CXC/M.Weiss.

Description:

The composite image on the left shows an image from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory in purple and an optical image from the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) in red, blue and white. The Chandra source in the center of the image is the ancient pulsar PSR J0108-1431 (J0108 for short), located only 770 light years from us. The elongated object immediately to its upper right is a background galaxy that is unrelated to the pulsar. Since J0108 is located a long way from the plane of our galaxy, many distant galaxies are visible in the larger-scale optical image.
The position of the pulsar seen by Chandra in this image from early 2007 is slightly different from the radio position observed in early 2001, implying that the pulsar is moving at a velocity of about 440,000 miles per hour, in the direction shown by the white arrow. The detection of this motion allowed an estimate of where J0108 should be located in the VLT image taken in 2000. The faint blue star just above the galaxy is a possible optical detection of the pulsar.

The artist’s impression on the right shows what J0108 might look like if viewed up close. Radiation from particles spiraling around magnetic fields is shown along with heated areas around the neutron star’s magnetic poles. Both of these effects are expected to generate X-ray emission. Most of the surface of the neutron star is expected to be too cool to produce X-rays, but it should produce optical and ultraviolet radiation. Thus, multiwavelength observations are important for providing a complete picture of these exotic objects.

At an age of about 200 million years, this pulsar is the oldest isolated pulsar ever detected in X-rays. Among isolated pulsars – ones that have not been spun-up in a binary system – it is over 10 times older than the previous record holder with an X-ray detection. This pulsar is slowing down as it ages and converting some of the energy that is being lost into X-rays. The efficiency of this process for J0108 is found to be higher than for any other known pulsar.

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Massive Young Stars Trigger Stellar Birth October 15, 2008

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RCW 108
Credit:

X-ray: NASA/CXC/CfA/S.Wolk et al; IR: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Description:

RCW 108 is a region where stars are actively forming within the Milky Way galaxy about 4,000 light years from Earth. This is a complicated region that contains young star clusters, including one that is deeply embedded in a cloud of molecular hydrogen. By using data from different telescopes, astronomers determined that star birth in this region is being triggered by the effect of nearby, massive young stars.

This image is a composite of X-ray data from Chandra (blue) and infrared emission detected by Spitzer (red and orange). More than 400 X-ray sources were identified in Chandra’s observations of RCW 108. About 90% of these X-ray sources are thought to be part of the cluster and not stars that lie in the field-of-view either behind or in front of it. Many of the stars in RCW 108 are experiencing the violent flaring seen in other young star-forming regions such as the Orion Nebula. Gas and dust blocks much of the X-rays from the juvenile stars located in the center of the image, explaining the relative dearth of Chandra sources in this part of the image.

The Spitzer data show the location of the embedded star cluster, which appears as the bright knot of red and orange just to the left of the center of the image. Some stars from a larger cluster, known as NGC 6193, are also visible on the left side of the image. Astronomers think that the dense clouds within RCW 108 are in the process of being destroyed by intense radiation emanating from hot and massive stars in NGC 6193.

Taken together, the Chandra and Spitzer data indicate that there are more massive star candidates than expected in several areas of this image. This suggests that pockets within RCW 108 underwent localized episodes of star formation. Scientists predict that this type of star formation is triggered by the effects of radiation from bright, massive stars such as those in NGC 6193. This radiation may cause the interior of gas clouds in RCW 108 to be compressed, leading to gravitational collapse and the formation of new stars.

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NASA Unveils First Images From Chandra X-Ray Observatory October 10, 2008

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PKS 0637-752
Credit:

NASA/CXC/SAO

Description:

PKS 0637-752 is so distant that we see it as it was 6 billion years ago. It is a luminous quasar that radiates with the power of 10 trillion suns from a region smaller than our solar system. The source of this prodigious energy is believed to be a supermassive black hole.

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This is the first image posted by the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, on August 26, 1999.

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SN 1996cr: Powerful Nearby Supernova Caught By Web September 29, 2008

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SN 1996cr
Credit:

X-ray (NASA/CXC/Columbia/F.Bauer et al); Optical (NASA/STScI/UMD/A.Wilson et al.)

Explanation:

This composite image shows the central regions of the nearby Circinus galaxy, located about 12 million light years away. Data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory is shown in blue and data from the Hubble Space telescope is shown in yellow (“I-band”), red (hydrogen emission), cyan (“V-band”) and light blue (oxygen emission). The bright, blue source near the lower right hand corner of the image is the supernova SN 1996cr, that has finally been identified over a decade after it exploded.

Optical images from the archives of the Anglo-Australian Telescope in Australia show that SN 1996cr exploded between February 28, 1995 and March 15, 1996. Among the five nearest supernovas of the last 25 years, SN 1996cr is the only one that was not seen shortly after the explosion. It may not have been noticed by astronomers at the time because it was only visible in the southern hemisphere, which is not as widely monitored as the northern.

The supernova was first singled out in 2001 as a bright, variable object in a Chandra image. Despite some exceptional properties, its nature remained unclear until years later, when scientists were able to confirm this object was a supernova. Clues in data from the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope led the team to search through data archives from 18 different telescopes, both in space and on the ground, nearly all of which was from archives. This is a remarkable example of the new era of `Internet astronomy’.

The Circinus galaxy is a popular target for astronomers because it contains a supermassive black hole that is actively growing, and it shows vigorous star formation. It is also nearby, at only about 4 times the distance of M31. Therefore, the public archives of telescopes contain abundant data on this galaxy.

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