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Several of the first images captured by the James Webb Space Telescope look a little more psychedelic, thanks to NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory.
Glowing blue and purple X-rays can now be seen in newly released versions of four images that combine Chandra’s data with Webb’s infrared data.
Those four images include the galaxy cluster SMACS 0723, Stephan’s Quintet, a star cluster in the Carina Nebula, and the Cartwheel galaxy.
The Chandra telescope, launched in 1999, orbits 86,500 miles (139,000 kilometers) above Earth’s atmosphere to observe X-rays from galaxy clusters, exploded stars and the matter swirling around black holes. It can detect more energetic phenomena than Webb, like the remnants of supernovas and superhot gas. Chandra is the world’s most powerful X-ray telescope.
The great space observatories like Hubble, Chandra and Webb are designed to complement one another by observing across different wavelengths of light to provide a clearer and more detailed way of seeing the universe. Combining data from the telescopes can also create enhanced images that reveal previously unseen celestial aspects.
“Both Chandra and Webb push beyond what’s thought to be possible,” said Charlie Atkinson, chief engineer of the James Webb Space Telescope at Northrop Grumman, in a statement. “These remarkable images from both telescopes complement each other to reveal incredible new details and further expand our understanding of the cosmos.”
The Cartwheel galaxy was shaped by colliding with a smaller galaxy that punched through it about 100 million years ago. This collision caused star formation to spring into motion around the galaxy’s outer ring. In the new Chandra data, blue and purple highlights pinpoint superheated gas, exploded stars and their remnants (like neutron stars and black holes), which are siphoning material away from companion stars, across the galaxy.
In Stephan’s Quintet, a grouping of galaxies, Chandra spied a shock wave that heats gas to tens of millions of degrees, which is shown in light blue. This shock wave is occurring as one of the galaxies zips through the others at a speed of about 2 million miles per hour.
The galaxy cluster SMACS 0723.3–7327 served as Webb’s “deepest and sharpest infrared image of the distant universe to date,” according to NASA. Galaxy clusters also contain tons of superheated gas, seen in blue with the new Chandra data at the center of the image. The gas is heated to tens of millions of degrees and has a mass of about 100 trillion times the sun.
Chandra also peered into the Carina Nebula and added highlights of pink to spotlight the home of individual X-ray sources, which are mostly stars located in a stellar cluster between 1 to 2 million years old.
These young stars, astronomically speaking, glow much brighter in X-rays than old stars, which helps astronomers spot them.