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NASA's Chandra, Webb combine to produce new views of space

25 May 2023

Four composite images – merging X-ray and Infrared signals – show two galaxies, a nebula, and a star cluster.

Four composite images – newly released by NASA – present dazzling views from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and James Webb Space Telescope of two galaxies, a nebula, and a star cluster. Each image combines Chandra’s X-rays with infrared data from previously released Webb images.

Data from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope (optical light) and retired Spitzer Space Telescope (infrared), plus the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton (X-ray) and the European Southern Observatory’s New Technology Telescope (optical) are also used in the composites. The images are created by mapping the data to colors visible to human observers.

The images

Pictured above (from upper left and clockwise), the objects imaged are:

  • NGC 346 is a star cluster in a nearby galaxy, the Small Magellanic Cloud, about 200,000 light-years from Earth. Webb shows plumes and arcs of gas and dust that stars and planets use as source material during their formation. The purple cloud on the left seen with Chandra is the remains of a supernova explosion from a massive star.
  • NGC 1672 is a spiral galaxy, but one that astronomers categorize as a “barred” spiral. In regions close to their centers, the arms of barred spiral galaxies are mostly in a straight band of stars across the center that encloses the core, as opposed to other spirals that have arms that twist all the way to their core. The Chandra data reveals compact objects like neutron stars or black holes pulling material from companion stars as well as the remnants of exploded stars.
  • Messier 16, also known as the Eagle Nebula, is a famous region of the sky often referred to as the “Pillars of Creation.” The Webb image shows the dark columns of gas and dust shrouding the few remaining fledgling stars just being formed. The Chandra sources, which look like dots, are young stars that give off copious amounts of X-rays.
  • Messier 74 is also a spiral galaxy — like the Milky Way — that we see face-on from Earth. It is about 32 million light-years away. Messier 74 is nicknamed the Phantom Galaxy because it is relatively dim, making it harder to spot with small telescopes than other galaxies in Charles Messier’s catalog from the 18th century.

Chandra program

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, Mass.

The James Webb Space Telescope is the world’s premier space science observatory. Known by some as “The Webb”, it is an international program led by NASA with its partners, European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency.

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