NASA marks Chandra space telescope's 20th anniversary with gallery of stunning new images
NASA has celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Chandra X-ray Observatory's orbital life with a collection of new images that reflect the beauty and scientific importance of the veteran space telescope's work. The gallery includes a vista detailing the center of our galaxy, a beautiful supernova remnant, and a stellar nursery populated by massive, hot young stars.
The flagship Chandra space telescope was first proposed in 1976 by Italian-born astrophysicist Riccardo Giacconi, who later won the 2002 Nobel Prize for Physics in recognition of his contributions to X-ray astronomy. The telescope was finally launched into the sky above the Kennedy Space Center on July 23, 1999, nestled safely in the cargo bay of the Space Shuttle Columbia.
Chandra was designed to study distant objects that emit light in the X-ray part of the electromagnetic spectrum, which is invisible to the human eye. This type of light is produced in extreme environments where matter is heated up to millions of degrees. The powerful X-ray capabilities of the observatory complimented the work of other space telescopes that specialize in detecting other parts of the electromagnetic spectrum.
By combining Chandra observations with those of the Hubble Space Telescope, which excels at observing the universe in the optical part of the electromagnetic spectrum, or infrared data captured by Spitzer, astronomers are able to gather a more complete view of the universe. It's akin to being able to see all of the colors in a painting rather than just a few – not only would the view otherwise be diminished, but the observer could miss a detail that fundamentally alters the nature of the work.
The X-ray data collected by Chandra has greatly altered scientists' understanding as to the structure and evolution of the cosmos. The telescope has observed how the building blocks of life are cast out in dramatic supernovae explosions, and shed light (forgive the pun) on the nature of dark matter.
After a full two decades in space, the flagship telescope is still hard at work. The new images highlight the range of astronomical objects that Chandra has observed over the course of its scientific career.
"In this year of exceptional anniversaries – 50 years after Apollo 11 and 100 years after the solar eclipse that proved Einstein's General Theory of Relativity – we should not lose sight of one more," said Paul Hertz, Director of Astrophysics at NASA. "Chandra was launched 20 years ago, and it continues to deliver amazing science discoveries year after year."
Among the images is a shot of the central region of the Milky Way, compiled from Chandra data, which is shown in blue and green, alongside radio data collected by the MeerKAT telescope located in South Africa, which is shown in red.
Also included in the gallery is a striking stellar association Cygnus OB2. The stars in this grouping live short but incredibly intense lives. Whilst stellar bodies such as our Sun are capable of surviving roughly 10 billion years, those that inhabit Cygnus OB2 last just a few million. During this time they blast the surrounding environment with radiation, and create high energy winds. These winds collide with those born of other stars and produce powerful X-ray emissions.