X-ray vision reveals an explosion of stars

R. Kilgard et al. / Wesleyan / NASA / CXC

NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory’s image of the galaxy M82 shows the result of star formation on overdrive.

Alan Boyle says:Stars can be seen bursting into existence in this picture of the galaxy M82, captured by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory. The galaxy is located in the constellation Ursa Major, about 12 million light-years away. This is just about the nearest place where the conditions are similar to those that existed when the universe was young and vibrant with starbirth. M82’s star formation rate is tens or even hundreds of times higher than that of a normal galaxy. That may be due to a close encounter with another galaxy — perhaps with M81, its neighbor. A close brush between the two galaxies would have sent a shock wave coursing through M82.

M82 is seen nearly edge-on in this picture, with the galactic disk crossing from about 10 o’clock to 4 o’clock. Low, medium and high-energy X-rays are colored red, green and blue respectively. So far, eight very bright X-ray sources have been seen to undergo clear changes in brightness, and Chandra’s scientists suggest that they mark the locations of black holes that are pulling in material from massive companion stars. The picture was unveiled this week at the American Astronomical Society’s winter meeting in Seattle. Check the Chandra X-ray Center’s website to learn more.

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