From The National Aeronautics and Space Administration Chandra X-ray telescope: “Chandra Adds X-ray Vision to Webb Images”

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From The National Aeronautics and Space Administration Chandra X-ray telescope

Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO; IR (Spitzer): NASA/JPL-Caltech; IR (Webb): NASA/ESA/CSA/STScI

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.

Stephan’s Quintet:
The four galaxies within Stephan’s Quintet are undergoing an intricate dance choreographed by gravity. (The fifth galaxy, on the left, is an interloping galaxy at a different distance.) The Webb image (red, orange, yellow, green, blue) of this object features never-seen-before details of the results of these interactions, including sweeping tails of gas and bursts of star formation. The Chandra data (light blue) of this system has uncovered a shock wave that heats gas to tens of millions of degrees, as one of the galaxies passes through the others at speeds of around 2 million miles per hour. This new composite also includes infrared data from NASA’s now-retired Spitzer Space Telescope (red, green, blue).

Cartwheel Galaxy:
The Cartwheel galaxy gets its shape from a collision with another smaller galaxy — located outside the field of this image — about 100 million years ago. When this smaller galaxy punched through the Cartwheel, it triggered star formation that appears around an outer ring and elsewhere throughout the galaxy. X-rays seen by Chandra (blue and purple) come from superheated gas, individual exploded stars, and neutron stars and black holes pulling material from companion stars. Webb’s infrared view (red, orange, yellow, green, blue) shows the Cartwheel galaxy plus two smaller companion galaxies — not part of the collision — against a backdrop of many more distant galactic cousins.

SMACS 0723.3–7327
Webb data shows how the galaxy cluster SMACS J0723, located about 4.2 billion light-years away, contains hundreds of individual galaxies. Galaxy clusters, however, contain far more than their galaxies alone. As some of the largest structures in the universe, they are filled with vast reservoirs of superheated gas that is seen only in X-ray light. In this image, the Chandra data (blue) reveals gas with temperatures of tens of millions of degrees, possessing a total mass of about 100 trillion times that of the Sun, several times higher than the mass of all the galaxies in the cluster. Invisible dark matter makes up an even larger fraction of the total mass in the cluster.

NGC 3324, The Cosmic Cliffs of the Carina Nebula
Chandra’s data of the “Cosmic Cliffs” (pink) reveals over a dozen individual X-ray sources. These are mostly stars located in the outer region of a star cluster in the Carina Nebula with ages between 1 and 2 million years old, which is very young in stellar terms. Young stars are much brighter in X-rays than old stars, making X-ray studies an ideal way to distinguish stars in the Carina Nebula from the many stars of different ages from our Milky Way galaxy along our line of sight to the nebula. The diffuse X-ray emission in the top half of the image likely comes from hot gas from the three hottest, most massive stars in the star cluster. They are all outside the field of view of the Webb image. The Webb image uses the following colors: red, orange, yellow, green, cyan, and blue.

National Aeronautics Space Agency/European Space Agency [La Agencia Espacial Europea] [Agence spatiale européenne][Europäische Weltraumorganisation](EU)/ Canadian Space Agency [Agence Spatiale Canadienne](CA) James Webb Infrared Space Telescope annotated, finally launched December 25, 2021, ten years late.

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NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., manages the Chandra program for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory controls Chandra’s science and flight operations from Cambridge, Mass.
In 1976 the Chandra X-ray Observatory (called AXAF at the time) was proposed to National Aeronautics and Space Administration by Riccardo Giacconi and Harvey Tananbaum. Preliminary work began the following year at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. In the meantime, in 1978, NASA launched the first imaging X-ray telescope, Einstein (HEAO-2), into orbit. Work continued on the AXAF project throughout the 1980s and 1990s. In 1992, to reduce costs, the spacecraft was redesigned. Four of the twelve planned mirrors were eliminated, as were two of the six scientific instruments. AXAF’s planned orbit was changed to an elliptical one, reaching one third of the way to the Moon’s at its farthest point. This eliminated the possibility of improvement or repair by the space shuttle but put the observatory above the Earth’s radiation belts for most of its orbit. AXAF was assembled and tested by TRW (now Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems) in Redondo Beach, California.

AXAF was renamed Chandra as part of a contest held by NASA in 1998, which drew more than 6,000 submissions worldwide. The contest winners, Jatila van der Veen and Tyrel Johnson (then a high school teacher and high school student, respectively), suggested the name in honor of Nobel Prize–winning Indian-American astrophysicist Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar. He is known for his work in determining the maximum mass of white dwarf stars, leading to greater understanding of high energy astronomical phenomena such as neutron stars and black holes. Fittingly, the name Chandra means “moon” in Sanskrit.

Originally scheduled to be launched in December 1998, the spacecraft was delayed several months, eventually being launched on July 23, 1999, at 04:31 UTC by Space Shuttle Columbia during STS-93. Chandra was deployed from Columbia at 11:47 UTC. The Inertial Upper Stage’s first stage motor ignited at 12:48 UTC, and after burning for 125 seconds and separating, the second stage ignited at 12:51 UTC and burned for 117 seconds. At 22,753 kilograms (50,162 lb), it was the heaviest payload ever launched by the shuttle, a consequence of the two-stage Inertial Upper Stage booster rocket system needed to transport the spacecraft to its high orbit.

Chandra has been returning data since the month after it launched. It is operated by the SAO at the Chandra X-ray Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with assistance from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Northrop Grumman Space Technology. The ACIS CCDs suffered particle damage during early radiation belt passages. To prevent further damage, the instrument is now removed from the telescope’s focal plane during passages.

Although Chandra was initially given an expected lifetime of 5 years, on September 4, 2001, NASA extended its lifetime to 10 years “based on the observatory’s outstanding results.” Physically Chandra could last much longer. A 2004 study performed at the Chandra X-ray Center indicated that the observatory could last at least 15 years.

In July 2008, the International X-ray Observatory, a joint project between European Space Agency [La Agencia Espacial Europea] [Agence spatiale européenne][Europäische Weltraumorganisation](EU), NASA and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) (国立研究開発法人宇宙航空研究開発機構], was proposed as the next major X-ray observatory but was later cancelled. ESA later resurrected a downsized version of the project as the Advanced Telescope for High Energy Astrophysics (ATHENA), with a proposed launch in 2028.

European Space Agency [La Agencia Espacial Europea] [Agence spatiale européenne][Europäische Weltraumorganisation](EU) Athena spacecraft depiction

On October 10, 2018, Chandra entered safe mode operations, due to a gyroscope glitch. NASA reported that all science instruments were safe. Within days, the 3-second error in data from one gyro was understood, and plans were made to return Chandra to full service. The gyroscope that experienced the glitch was placed in reserve and is otherwise healthy.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation’s civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958 with a distinctly civilian (rather than military) orientation encouraging peaceful applications in space science. The National Aeronautics and Space Act was passed on July 29, 1958, disestablishing NASA’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). The new agency became operational on October 1, 1958.

Since that time, most U.S. space exploration efforts have been led by NASA, including the Apollo moon-landing missions, the Skylab space station, and later the Space Shuttle. Currently, NASA is supporting the International Space Station and is overseeing the development of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and Commercial Crew vehicles. The agency is also responsible for the Launch Services Program (LSP) which provides oversight of launch operations and countdown management for unmanned NASA launches. Most recently, NASA announced a new Space Launch System that it said would take the agency’s astronauts farther into space than ever before and lay the cornerstone for future human space exploration efforts by the U.S.

NASA science is focused on better understanding Earth through the Earth Observing System, advancing heliophysics through the efforts of the Science Mission Directorate’s Heliophysics Research Program, exploring bodies throughout the Solar System with advanced robotic missions such as New Horizons, and researching astrophysics topics, such as the Big Bang, through the Great Observatories [NASA/ESA Hubble, NASA Chandra, NASA Spitzer, and associated programs.] NASA shares data with various national and international organizations such as from [JAXA]Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite.