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    NASA Just Released These Gorgeous X-Ray Photos of Space

    Written by

    Meghan Neal

    contributing editor

    All images via NASA/CXC/SAO

    Happy Wednesday space fans, NASA just released for your viewing pleasure eight spectacular photos of the universe never-before seen, taken by the agency’s x-ray space telescope.

    NASA published the images this week in honor of the incredibly specific American Archive Month, being celebrated by all manner of archivists this October. For its part, the space agency selected a handful of greatest hits from the massive archive of unprocessed celestial images housed at the Chandra X-Ray Observatory.

    “These images represent the observations of thousands of objects that are permanently available to the world thanks to Chandra’s archive,” NASA wrote in its announcement.

    The Chandra X-ray Observatory is one of the NASA's "Great Observatories," alongside the Hubble Space Telescope and the Spitzer Space Telescope. Chandra’s space-based telescope has been in orbit space since 1999, capturing the cosmos in X-ray vision. By studying X-ray images, which can detect far more detail than any photos of space taken from Earth, scientists have been able to discover unexplored parts of the universe.

    The resulting catalog of thousands of images is freely available to astronomers and lay space enthusiasts alike. It's "one of the legacies of the Chandra mission that will serve both the scientific community and the public for decades to come," wrote NASA. They also look really pretty, as you can see.

    NASA hand-picked these beauties from the Chandra archive, representing eight celestial objects. They are all composite photos that combine x-ray images with other information such as radio, optical, or infrared data. The descriptions in the captions below are courtesy of NASA.


    A region of glowing gas in the Sagittarius arm of the Milky Way galaxy, NGC 3576 is located about 9,000 light years from Earth. Such nebulas present a tableau of the drama of the evolution of massive stars, from the formation in vast dark clouds, their relatively brief (a few million years) lives, and the eventual destruction in supernova explosions.


    This image provides a view into the central region of a galaxy that is similar in overall appearance to our own Milky Way, but contains a much more active supermassive black hole within the white area near the top. This galaxy, known as NGC 4945, is only about 13 million light years from Earth and is seen edge-on. X-rays from Chandra (blue), which have been overlaid on an optical image from the European Space Observatory, reveal the presence of the supermassive black hole at the center of this galaxy. 


    When radiation and winds from massive young stars impact clouds of cool gas, they can trigger new generations of stars to form. This is what may be happening in this object known as the Elephant Trunk Nebula (or its official name of IC 1396A). 


    A Galactic supernova remnant with an unusual shape. Researchers think its box-like appearance is produced as the heated remains of the exploded star—detected by Chandra in X-rays (purple)—runs into cooler gas surrounding it.


    NGC 6946 is a medium-sized, face-on spiral galaxy about 22 million light years away from Earth. In the past century, eight supernovas have been observed to explode in the arms of this galaxy. Chandra observations (purple) have, in fact, revealed three of the oldest supernovas ever detected in X-rays, giving more credence to its nickname of the "Fireworks Galaxy." 


    The details of how massive stars explode remains one of the biggest questions in astrophysics. Located in the neighboring galaxy of the Small Magellanic Cloud, this supernova, SNR B0049-73.6, provides astronomers with another excellent example of such an explosion to study. Chandra observations of the dynamics and composition of the debris from the explosion support the view that the explosion was produced by the collapse of the central core of a star.


    Jets generated by supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies can transport huge amounts of energy across great distances. 3C353 is a wide, double-lobed source where the galaxy is the tiny point in the center and giant plumes of radiation can be seen in X-rays from Chandra (purple) and radio data from the Very Large Array (orange). 


    This image was produced by the explosion of a massive star in the Milky Way galaxy. A Chandra observation of this supernova remnant reveals the presence of extremely high-energy particles produced as the shock wave from this explosion expands into interstellar space.