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A Fab Five: New Images With NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory
Chandra Archive Collection
Visual Description:

  • A quintet of images made from different types of light — including X-rays from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory — has been released.

  • The five new objects include supernova remnants, the center of the Milky Way, and two different galaxies.

  • By combining Chandra data with those from other telescopes, astronomers can learn new information about these objects.

  • Colors have been assigned to the different types of light because most are invisible to the human eye.

A new collection of stunning images highlights data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and other telescopes. These objects have been observed in light invisible to human eyes — including X-rays, infrared, and radio — by some of the world’s most powerful telescopes. The data from different types of light has been assigned colors that the human eye can perceive, allowing us to explore these cosmic entities.

The objects in this quintet of images range both in distance and category. Vela and Kepler are the remains of exploded stars within our own Milky Way galaxy, the center of which can be seen in the top panorama. In NGC 1365, we see a double-barred spiral galaxy located about 60 million light-years from Earth. Farther away and on an even larger scale, ESO 137-001 shows what happens when a galaxy hurtles through space and leaves a wake behind it.

Montage with objects labeled
Galactic Center

Galactic Center:
The Galactic Center is about 26,000 light-years from Earth, but telescopes like NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory (orange, green, blue, purple) allow us to visit virtually. The center of the Milky Way contains a supermassive black hole, superheated clouds of gas, massive stars, neutron stars, and much more.

Kepler's Supernova Remnant

Kepler's Supernova Remnant:
The Kepler supernova remnant is the remains of a white dwarf that exploded after undergoing a thermonuclear explosion. Chandra (blue) shows a powerful blast wave that ripped through space after the detonation, while infrared data from NASA’s retired Spitzer Space Telescope (red) and optical light from Hubble (cyan and yellow) show the debris of the destroyed star.

ESO 137-001

ESO 137-001:
As the galaxy moves through space at 1.5 million miles per hour, it leaves not one — but two — tails behind it. These tails trailing after ESO 137-001 are made of superheated gas that Chandra detects in X-rays (blue). ESO’s Very Large Telescope shows light from hydrogen atoms (red), which have been added to the image along with optical and infrared data from Hubble (orange and cyan).

NGC 1365

NGC 1365:
The center of the spiral galaxy NGC 1365 contains a supermassive black hole being fed by a steady stream of material. Some of the hot gas revealed in the X-ray image from Chandra (purple) will eventually be pulled into the black hole. The Chandra image has been combined with infrared data from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (red, green, and blue).

Vela Pulsar

Vela Pulsar:
By combining data from NASA’s Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE, shown in light blue), Chandra (purple), and NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope (yellow), researchers are probing Vela, the aftermath of a star that collapsed and exploded and now sends a remarkable storm of particles and energy into space. IXPE shows the average orientation of the X-rays with respect to the jet in this image.

For all the images in this new collection, the individual images are also shown separately.

NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center manages the Chandra program. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory's Chandra X-ray Center controls science operations from Cambridge, Massachusetts, and flight operations from Burlington, Massachusetts.


Visual Description:

This release features five separate composite images of cosmic entities, made from data captured in different types of light. To help us explore objects observed in light that is invisible to humans, such as X-ray, infrared, and radio, colors have been assigned to each different type of light.

The first image in the collection is titled Galactic Center. Here, the center of the Milky Way galaxy resembles a pink, orange, red, and purple cloud, dotted with several brilliant orbs of light. Surrounding the cloud is a dense field of purple, orange, red, and pale blue specks that entirely blankets the sky. In this image, orange, blue, and purple represent X-ray light from the Chandra X-ray Observatory.

The second image features Kepler's Supernova Remnant, the remains of a white dwarf star that was destroyed by a thermonuclear explosion. The remnant resembles a knotted ball of crackling blue, red, and white energy, set against a black sky dotted with pale blue specks. Here, red streaks and patches of mottled turquoise represent debris from the destroyed star. A web of translucent electric blue veins that encircles and weaves through the knot represents the powerful blast wave captured by Chandra.

In the third image, a bright, pale pink light encircled by translucent blue swirls rockets toward our upper left, leaving two, long, pink and purple tails behind it. This is ESO 137-001, a galaxy moving through space at 1.5 million miles per hour. Set against a black background packed with gleaming stars, the galaxy's twin tails feature streams of pink floating inside superheated purple gas. Clusters of red dots, hydrogen atoms, appear to travel with the galaxy, alongside the flowing tails. In this image, X-ray light is represented by blue.

The fourth image in this release features a close up of the spiral galaxy NGC 1365, and the supermassive black hole at its center. Here, the galaxy is shown at a dramatic angle, as if the bright pink core is gazing past our right shoulder. Swirls of pale, grey-blue material, resembling waves in a dark ocean, spiral toward the radiant pink core, which hangs at our upper left. Glowing pink circles, and flecks of red, dot the churning spiral galaxy. In this image, X-ray light captured by Chandra is rendered in hot pinks and purples.

The fifth and final image of this release features the Vela Pulsar, the aftermath of a collapsed and exploded star sending a jet of particles into space. The pulsar resembles a soft, pillowy, lavender bean in a pocket of blue gas. A faint stream of gas, the X-ray jet, appears to shoot from the pocket, heading into the distance at our upper right. Purple markings in the lavender bean shape strongly resemble narrow eyes and an open mouth, giving the pulsar a squinting happy face. In this image, X-ray light is shown in blues and purples.


Fast Facts for Galactic Center:
Credit:   NASA/CXC/UMass/Q.D. Wang; Image processing: NASA/CXC/SAO/N. Wolk
Release Date:  September 13, 2023
Scale:  Image is about 96 arcmin (725 light-years) across
Category  Normal Galaxies & Starburst Galaxies
Coordinates (J2000):   RA 17h 45m 23.5s | -29° 02' 00.1"
Constellation:  Sagittarius
Observation Date(s):  370 observations from Sept 9, 1999 to July 28, 2019
Observation Time:  1,555 hours 26 minutes (64 days, 19 hours 26 minutes)
Obs. IDs:  21581-21628 and 323 others
Instrument:  ACIS
Reference(s):  Wang, Q.D., Universe, 8, 515
Color Code:  X-ray: orange (1-2.5 keV), green(2.5-4 keV), blue (4-6 keV), purple(6-9 keV)
Distance Estimate:  About 26,000 light-years
distance arrow


Fast Facts for Kepler's Supernova Remnant:
Credit:  NASA/CXC/SAO; Optical: SDSS; NASA/ESA/STScI; IR: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Spitzer; Image processing: NASA/CXC/SAO/N. Wolk, K. Arcand
Release Date:  September 13, 2023
Scale:  Image is about 5.6 arcmin (32 light-years) across
Category:  Supernovas & Supernova Remnants
Coordinates (J2000):  RA 17h 30m 36s | Dec -21° 28' 56.1"
Constellation:  Ophiuchus
Observation Date(s):  10 observations from 2000 to 2014
Observation Time:  264 hours (11 days 7 hours)
Obs. IDs:  116, 4650, 6714, 6715, 6716, 6717, 6718, 7366, 16004, 16614
Instrument:  ACIS
Color Code:  X-ray: blue; Optical: cyan (DSS) and yellow (Hubble); IR: red
Distance Estimate  About 20,000 light-years
distance arrow


Facts for ESO 137-001:
Credit:   X-ray: NASA/CXC/Univ. of Alabama, Huntsville/M. Sun et al.; H-&alpha: ESO/MUSE; Optical/IR: NASA/STScI/HST
Release Date:  September 13, 2023
Scale:  Image is about 3.5 arcmin (215,000 light-years) across
Category:  Groups & Clusters of Galaxies
Coordinates (J2000):  RA 16h 13m 27.2s | Dec -60° 45' 49.2"
Constellation:  Triangulum Australe
Observation Date(s):  June 13, 2006
Observation Time:  38 hours (1 day 14 hours 54 minutes)
Obs. IDs:  9518
Instrument:  ACIS
Reference(s):  Sun, M., et al, 2022, Nature Astronomy, 6, 270-274. arXiv:2103.09205
Color Code:  X-ray: blue; H-alpha: red; Optical/IR: orange/cyan
Distance Estimate  About 213 million light-years
distance arrow


Facts for NGC 1365:
Credit:   X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO; IR: NASA/ESA/CSA/STScI; Image processing: NASA/CXC/SAO/L. Frattare and J. Major
Release Date:  September 13, 2023
Scale:  Image is about 3.7 arcmin (65,000 light-years) across
Category:  Black Holes and Normal Galaxies & Starburst Galaxies
Coordinates (J2000):  RA 03h 33m 36.40s | Dec -36° 08' 25.00"
Constellation:  Fornax
Observation Date(s):  13 observations from Jun 2001-Nov 2019
Observation Time:  6 pointings between April 10-23, 2006
Obs. IDs:  6868 - 6873
Instrument:  ACIS
Color Code:  X-ray: purple; IR: red, green, blue
Distance Estimate  About 60 million light-years
distance arrow


Facts for Vela Pulsar:
Credit:   NASA/CXC/SAO (Chandra), NASA/MSFC/F. Xie et al. (IXPE); Optical: NASA/ESA/STScI; Image processing: NASA/CXC/SAO/J. Schmidt, K. Arcand
Release Date:  September 13, 2023
Scale:  Image is about 4.8 arcmin (1.4 light-years) across
Category:  Neutron Stars & X-ray Binaries
Coordinates (J2000):  RA 08h 35m 20.60s | Dec -45° 10' 35.00"
Constellation:  Vela
Observation Date(s):  8 pointings between June and September 2010
Observation Time:  89 hours (3 days, 17 hours)
Obs. IDs:  10135-10139, 12073-12075
Instrument:  ACIS
Color Code:  X-ray: purple (Chandra), light blue (IXPE); Optical: yellow
Distance Estimate  About 1,000 light-years
distance arrow


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