Groups & Clusters of Galaxies

"El Gordo": A Galaxy Cluster That Pushes the Limits

Image of El Gordo
El Gordo
Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Rutgers/J. Hughes et al.; Infrared: NASA/ESA/CSA, J.M. Diego (IFCA), B.Frye (Univ. of Arizona), P.Kamieneski, T.Carleton & R.Windhorst (ASU);

When astronomers discovered the galaxy cluster ACT-CL J0102-4915 in 2012 with NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and ground-based optical telescopes, they nicknamed it "El Gordo" (Spanish for the "Fat One") because of its gigantic mass. Scientists estimate that El Gordo contains as much as 3 million billion (3,000,000,000,000,000) times the mass of the Sun. Thanks to its heft, El Gordo acts as a natural lens, distorting the light from more distant objects behind it through a process known as gravitational lensing.

A new composite image of El Gordo shows the diffuse, superheated gas in the cluster observed in X-rays from Chandra (blue) that have been combined with a new infrared image from NASA's James Webb Space Telescope (red, green, and blue). Webb's image shows galaxies in El Gordo plus background galaxies located further away from Earth. El Gordo is located about 7.3 billion light-years from Earth and the background galaxies are at a range of different distances including several that are 12.3 billion light-years from Earth. The appearance of some of the background galaxies has been distorted into a variety of unusual and highly elongated shapes because of gravitational lensing by the cluster.

Unexpectedly Calm and Remote Galaxy Cluster Discovered

SPT-CL J2215-3537
Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/MIT/M. Calzadilla; UV/Optical/Near-IR/IR: NASA/STScI/HST; Image processing: N. Wolk

The discovery of the most distant galaxy cluster with a specific important trait – as described in our press release – is providing insight into how these gigantic structures formed and why the universe looks like it does in the present day.

Galaxies Go on a Deep Dive and Leave Fiery Tail Behind

Image of NGC 4839
NGC 4839
Credit: X-ray: Chandra: NASA/SAO/Univ. of Alabama/M. S. Mirakhor et al.; XMM: ESA/XMM-Newton;
Optical: SDSS; Image processing: N. Wolk

A group of galaxies is plunging into the Coma galaxy cluster and leaving behind an enormous tail of superheated gas. Astronomers have confirmed this is the longest known tail behind a galaxy group and used it to gain a deeper understanding of how galaxy clusters – some of the largest structures in the universe – grow to their enormous sizes.

Powerful Yet Lonely: The Distant Quasar Left Alone in its Group

An image of Valentina Missaglia on the walkway in front of a ground-based observatory on a sunny day.
Valentina Missaglia

We are happy to welcome Valentina Missaglia as a guest blogger. She is the first author of the paper that is the subject of our latest press release. She is currently a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute of Astrophysics — FORTH in Heraklion (Crete) in the SMILE (“Search for Milli-LEnses”) group, recently funded by an ERC grant, that aims at investigating the nature of dark matter through observations of gravitational lenses on milli-arcsecond scales. Valentina earned her Ph.D. from the University of Turin (Italy) and her research focuses on radio and X-ray emission from radio-loud active galactic nuclei (which contain supermassive black holes that are rapidly pulling in material, producing intense radio waves) and how these sources interact with the surrounding medium. Before starting her Ph.D. in 2019, Valentina was a visiting student at the Center of Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian, where she collaborated with Dr. Ralph Kraft on observations of galaxy clusters performed with NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory.

Looking at the night sky with the naked eye, we can only see an infinitesimal part of what the Universe contains, and the largest part cannot even be “seen”. Radio wavelengths have gifted us some of the most fascinating astronomical sources: radio-loud active galactic nuclei in the centers of galaxies, which can produce jets that extend way farther out from the optical galaxy itself.

The most powerful radio sources in the northern hemisphere are listed in a well- studied catalog, the Third Cambridge Catalog (3C), which contains the source we investigated with multiwavelength observations: 3C 297. This source appeared very intriguing in observations performed with Chandra in 2016. Therefore, we requested more time to better investigate features that we uncovered thanks to this first short observation, such as hot, X-ray emitting gas around our source.

Untangling a Knot of Galaxy Clusters

Multiwavelength image of Abell 2256
Abell 2256
Credit: X-ray: Chandra: NASA/CXC/Univ. of Bologna/K. Rajpurohit et al.; XMM-Newton: ESA/XMM-Newton/Univ. of Bologna/K. Rajpurohit et al. Radio: LOFAR: LOFAR/ASTRON; GMRT: NCRA/TIFR/GMRT; VLA: NSF/NRAO/VLA; Optical/IR: Pan-STARRS

Astronomers have captured a spectacular, ongoing collision between at least three galaxy clusters. Data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, ESA’s (European Space Agency’s) XMM-Newton, and a trio of radio telescopes is helping astronomers sort out what is happening in this jumbled scene. Collisions and mergers like this are the main way that galaxy clusters can grow into the gigantic cosmic edifices seen today. These also act as the largest particle accelerators in the universe.

The giant galaxy cluster forming from this collision is Abell 2256, located 780 million light-years from Earth. This composite image of Abell 2256 combines X-rays from Chandra and XMM in blue with radio data collected by the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT), the Low Frequency Array (LOFAR), and the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) all in red, plus optical and infrared data from Pan-STARRs in white and pale yellow.

NASA's Chandra Finds Galaxy Cluster Collision on a "WHIM"

Abell 98
Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/CfA/A. Sarkar; Optical: NSF/NOIRLab/WIYN

This image features Abell 98, a system of galaxy clusters that includes a pair in the early stages of a collision. Astronomers have used data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory (shown as blue and purple with optical data from the WIYN telescope on Kitt Peak in Arizona appearing white and red) to identify key structures and look for “missing” matter in the Universe.

Chandra Adds X-ray Vision to Webb Images

In the summer of 2022, NASA's James Webb Space Telescope released images from some of its earliest observations with the newly commissioned telescope. Almost instantaneously, these stunning images landed everywhere from the front pages of news outlets to larger-than-life displays in Times Square.

Webb, however, will not pursue its exploration of the universe on its own. It is designed to work in concert with NASA's many other telescopes as well as facilities both in space and on the ground. These new versions of Webb’s first images combine its infrared data with X-rays collected by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, underscoring how the power of any of these telescopes is only enhanced when joined with others.

NASA Telescopes Capture Stellar Delivery Service for Black Hole

Image of NGC 4424 with close-up inset image
NGC 4424
Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Swinburne Univ. of Technology/A. Graham et al.; Optical: NASA/ESA/STScI

Astronomers may have witnessed a galaxy’s black hole delivery system in action. A new study using data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and Hubble Space Telescope outlines how a large black hole may have been delivered to the spiral galaxy NGC 4424 by another, smaller galaxy.

NGC 4424 is located about 54 million light-years from Earth in the Virgo galaxy cluster. The main panel of this image, which has been previously released, shows a wide-field view of this galaxy in optical light from Hubble. The image is about 45,000 light-years wide. The center of this galaxy is expected to host a large black hole estimated to contain a mass between about 60,000 and 100,000 Suns. There are also likely to be millions of stellar-mass black holes, which contain between about 5 and 30 solar masses, spread throughout the galaxy.

Chandra Unveils Rotation Speed of One of the Most Massive Black Holes Ever Seen

Image of Julia Sisk-Reynés standing on an urban street in front of a monument.
Julia Sisk-Reynés

Our guest contributor is Julia Sisk-Reynés, the leader of a new black hole study that is the subject of our latest press release. Julia is a second-year PhD student at the Institute of Astronomy at the University of Cambridge, UK, where she is a member of the X-ray group working mainly with Prof. Chris Reynolds and Dr. James Matthews. Her primary focus is on constraining beyond the Standard Model Physics – in particular, axion-like particles (ALPs)- with X-ray observations of cluster-hosted active galaxies. The team have recently set the tightest limits to-date on the coupling of very light ALPs to electromagnetism with Chandra X-ray observations of the cluster-hosted quasar H1821+643. Julia came to Cambridge in 2020, straight after graduating from the University of Manchester with a master’s degree in physics. Amongst others, she did a project on assessing the sensitivity of the DarkSide-20k liquid argon experiment in Gran Sasso, Italy, to direct dark matter detection.

Black holes are one of the most tantalizing objects in the Universe. By 1915, Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity had introduced the notion that the gravity of black holes is so strong that they can distort the space-time around them … to the point where even light close to the black hole cannot escape! More recently, astronomers have gathered evidence that most – if not all – galaxies emitting lots of light at the center (also called active galactic nuclei or AGN) host a very massive black hole at their core. It is known that the properties of AGN and their central black holes are often linked. For example, the heavier the AGN, the heavier its host black hole. Therefore, the formation, growth, and evolution of black holes over time and their connection with the properties of their host galaxies are fascinating topics for astronomers to pursue.

Astronomers classify black holes into three groups, depending on their mass. Firstly, stellar-mass black holes, thought to form from the gravitational collapse of a star, weigh a few to a few tens of times the mass of the Sun. Then, we have a class of black holes of unknown origin which range from hundreds to tens of thousands of Suns, often referred to as “intermediate mass” black holes. A gravitational wave event detected in 2019 by the LIGO and VIRGO collaborations confirmed the existence of a black hole in this second category. Finally, supermassive Black Holes (SMBHs) weigh between millions and billions of Suns. While their origin is still debated, what we do know is that accretion, that is, the feeding of gas onto such black holes, is responsible for the X-ray emission coming from the AGN that surround them.

Colossal Collisions Linked to Solar System Science

Image of Abell 2146
Abell 2146
Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Univ. of Nottingham/H. Russell et al.; Optical: NAOJ/Subaru

A new study shows a deep connection between some of the largest, most energetic events in the Universe and much smaller, weaker ones powered by our own Sun.

The results come from a long observation with NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory of Abell 2146, a pair of colliding galaxy clusters located about 2.8 billion light years from Earth. The new study was led by Helen Russell of the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom.

Galaxy clusters contain hundreds of galaxies and huge amounts of hot gas and dark matter and are among the largest structures in the Universe. Collisions between galaxy clusters release enormous amounts of energy unlike anything witnessed since the big bang and provide scientists with physics laboratories that are unavailable here on Earth.


Disclaimer: This service is provided as a free forum for registered users. Users' comments do not reflect the views of the Chandra X-ray Center and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
Please note this is a moderated blog. No pornography, spam, profanity or discriminatory remarks are allowed. No personal attacks are allowed. Users should stay on topic to keep it relevant for the readers.
Read the privacy statement