One of the wonders of modern astronomy is the ability to “see” wavelengths of light that the human eye cannot. Last week, astronomers put this superpower to good use and released it five new pictures it showcases the universe at every wavelength from X-ray to infrared.
Combining data from ground-based and ground-based telescopes, these five images reveal a diverse set of astronomical phenomena, including the galactic center, the death throes of stars and distant galaxies traversing space.
The Vela Pulsar used to be a massive star until it exploded ~11,000 years ago. This image shows the remains of this explosion. The debris, illuminated by high-energy X-rays, was captured by both the Chandra X-Ray Observatory and the Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) and is shown in blue and purple in this image. The background star field was captured in optical light by the Hubble Space Telescope.
When Vela exploded, the dead star’s core collapsed, forming a rapidly rotating neutron star that is today hidden in the debris field. It rotates 11,195 times every second, sending out pulses of radio frequency energy with highly predictable regularity. The Vela Pulsar is constantly orbiting the surrounding nebula with strong winds, shaping the wavelike features in the photo and enveloping the stream of particles and energy it shoots out in the upper right.
Located in our own galaxy, just 1,000 light-years away, the Vela Pulsar is one of the brightest radio pulsars in the night sky.
Kepler’s Supernova Remnants
Twenty times further away than the Vela Pulsar—but still in our own galaxy—is Kepler’s supernova remnant, another exploded star. In this case, a white dwarf in a binary system feasted on its companion star until it reached an unsustainable mass, causing it to go supernova. The eruption occurred in 1604 and was visible to the naked eye during the day for three weeks. The famous 17th-century astronomer Johannes Kepler spent more than a year studying the supernova remnant, and the object was later named.
The blue in this image (Chandra) shows the shock wave from the explosion, while the red indicates the debris seen in infrared light by the Spitzer Space Telescope and in the optical Hubble (yellow).
26,000 light years away lies the very heart of the Milky Way Galaxy. This is a dense, energetic region of space, crowded with stars and superheated gas. At the center of it all is a supermassive black hole called Sagittarius A. The orange, green, blue and purple colors in the image each represent a different frequency of X-rays captured by the Chandra X-ray Observatory.
60 million light-years away—far beyond the Milky Way—is NGC 1365, a spiral galaxy not too dissimilar to our own. At its core lies a supermassive black hole surrounded by hot gas, illuminated by X-ray light captured by Chandra (pink and purple). The red, green, and blue colors in this image represent the galaxy as seen in infrared light by the James Webb Space Telescope.
NGC 1365 is characterized by a distinct “bar” across the center of the galaxy, a dense region extending from the galactic core to the spiral arms. Barred galaxies are common (the Milky Way is probably one), and barreds play an important role in galactic evolution, funneling gas and dust from the outer regions of the galaxy down into the galactic center.
213 million light-years away lies ESO 137-001, another spiral galaxy seen in white (optical light from Hubble) at upper left. This galaxy is moving through space at a speed of 1.5 million miles per hour and is heading towards the center of a galaxy cluster called Abell 3627.
Abell 3267 is full of superheated interstellar gas and dust, and as the galaxy passes through it, it sheds its own gas through a process called pressure stripping. This image shows the twin gas tails left behind. Red hydrogen atoms (visible with ESO’s Very Large Telescope) and energetic blue gas clouds (seen in the Chandra X-ray image) form twin tails stretching more than 260,000 light-years beyond the fast-moving galaxy.