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Chandra X-ray Observatory Turns 15!

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Lisa Winter

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1514 Chandra X-ray Observatory Turns 15!
X-ray: NASA/CXC/Wesleyan Univ./R.Kilgard, et al; Optical: NASA/STScI

NASA launched the Chandra X-ray Observatory from the Space Shuttle Columbia on July 23, 1999. Though it was only originally planned to have a 5 year mission, the telescope has reached 15 years of service and information as it observes the Universe at x-ray wavelengths. 

At the time of its launch, Chandra was 100 times more sensitive to x-rays than any other telescope. It has been used to target hot areas such as supernovae, black holes, and galaxy clusters. It is one of NASA’s Great Observatories, along with the Hubble Space Telescope (visible light), Compton Gamma Ray Observatory (gamma rays), and Spitzer Space Telescope (infrared).


The telescope was named in honor of Nobel laureate Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar (1910-1995), an Indian-American astrophysicist who was most widely known for his work regarding the evolution of massive stars, along with his equations regarding black holes.

In celebration of Chandra’s anniversary, enjoy one amazing image derived from its data from each year it has been operational. For more, visit Chandra’s website.

1999: Cassiopeia A: First Light One of the first images obtained from Chandra is the remnants of Cas A, a star that exploded almost 350 years ago. 


2000: E0102-72.3: In Perspective The remnant of supernova E0102-72 is shown in a composite image. Chandra captured the reverse shock wave, which was revealed to have high oxygen and neon content.


Credit: X-ray (blue): NASA/CXC/SAO, Optical (green): NASA/HST, Radio (red): CSIRO/ATNF/ATCA

2001: NGC 6543: Chandra Reveals The X-Ray Glint In The Cat's Eye X-ray emissions (purple) from the Cat’s Eye nebula were found to be much cooler than scientists had anticipated.

Credit: X-ray: NASA/UIUC/Y.Chu et al., Optical: NASA/HST

2002: Crab Nebula: Space Movie Reveals Shocking Secrets of the Crab Pulsar The neutron star’s magnetism influences particles as it rotates, creating pulsar wind the huge electrical voltage that cause the polar jets. 

Credits: X-ray: NASA/CXC/ASU/J. Hester et al.; Optical: NASA/HST/ASU/J. Hester et al.

2003: N63A: Celestial Illumination: The X-Ray Glow From An Exploded Star The remnants of N63A are located about 160,000 light-years away and the star exploded 2,000-5,000 years ago.

Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Rutgers/J.Warren et al.; Optical: NASA/STScI/U. Ill/Y.Chu; Radio: ATCA/U. Ill/J.Dickel et al.

2004: W49B: Smoking Gun Found for Gamma-Ray Burst in Milky Way Supernova remnant W49B, located about 26,000 light-years away, was the first indication of a gamma ray burst within our own galaxy.


Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/SSC/J. Keohane et al.; Infrared: Caltech/SSC/J.Rho and T. Jarrett

2005: Tycho's Supernova Remnant: Tycho's Remnant Provides Shocking Evidence for Cosmic Rays The remains of the supernova spotted by Thycho Brahe in 1572 contradicted theory by providing evidence that stellar debris keeps pace with the outward shock instead of lagging far behind. 

Credit: NASA/CXC/Rutgers/J.Warren & J.Hughes et al.

2006: Crab Nebula: The Spirit of Halloween Lives on as a Dead Star Creates Celestial Havoc A superdense neutron star that was formed by a star’s death 1000 years ago flings energetic particles outward, creating the Crab Nebula.

Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/ASU/J.Hester et al.; Optical: NASA/ESA/ASU/J.Hester & A.Loll; Infrared: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. Minn./R.Gehrz

2007: Jupiter: Chandra Examines Jupiter During New Horizons Approach The purple areas indicate aurorae, formed by solar wind interacting with sulfur and oxygen ions within Jupiter’s magnetic field.

Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/SwRI/R.Gladstone et al.; Optical: NASA/ESA/Hubble Heritage (AURA/STScI)

2008: SN 1006: Liberating Star Stuff When the light from Supernova 1006 first reached Earth 1000 years ago, it was documented by astronomers across Europe and Asia as being brighter than Venus.


Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Rutgers/G.Cassam-Chenaï, J.Hughes et al.; Radio: NRAO/AUI/NSF/GBT/VLA/Dyer, Maddalena & Cornwell; Optical: Middlebury College/F.Winkler, NOAO/AURA/NSF/CTIO Schmidt & DSS

2009: Galactic Center: NASA's Great Observatories Examine the Galactic Center Region This composite gives an unprecedented look at the center of the Milky Way galaxy.

Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/UMass/D. Wang et al.; Optical: NASA/ESA/STScI/D.Wang et al.; IR: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSC/S.Stolovy

2010: SN 1979C: NASA's Chandra Finds Youngest Nearby Black Hole SN 1979C is located in the galaxy M100, approximately 50 million light-years away.

Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO/D.Patnaude et al, Optical: ESO/VLT, Infrared: NASA/JPL/Caltech

2011: Tarantula Nebula: 30 Doradus and The Growing Tarantula Within The Tarantula Nebula contains around 2400 massive stars that shed off material, creating the large cloud of dust and gas.

Credit X-ray: NASA/CXC/PSU/L.Townsley et al.; Infrared: NASA/JPL/PSU/L.Townsley et al.

2012: NGC 922: Searching for the Best Black Hole Recipe Located 157 million light-years away, ring galaxy NGC 922 is studied to determine how many and what types of stars are needed to create black holes.


Credit: X-ray (NASA/CXC/SAO/A.Prestwich et al); Optical (NASA/STScI)

2013: NGC 2392: A Beautiful End to a Star's Life The Eskimo Nebula, about 4,200 light-years away, was formed from the material that was cast off as a Sun-like star became a red giant.

Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/IAA-CSIC/N.Ruiz et al, Optical: NASA/STScI

2014: NGC 4258 (M106): Galactic Pyrotechnics On Display At the time of this writing, this image is the most recent to come from Chandra’s data. 23 million light years away, NGC 4258 is studied to help astronomers understand the dynamic between the black hole and the galaxy itself.

Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Caltech/P.Ogle et al; Optical: NASA/STScI; IR: NASA/JPL-Caltech; Radio: NSF/NRAO/VLA


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