Chandra X-ray Observatory astonishes astronomers with its imagesBy Steve Koppes
During a career that spanned six decades, almost all of it at the University, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar opened the door to the existence of black holes and other exotic interstellar objects.
The very first images related to such phenomena, captured by the Chandra X-ray Observatory and released last August, continue to astonish astronomers. In one image, scientists found evidence of a neutron star at the center of the explosion of a massive star. Another image showed a powerful X-ray jet blasting 200,000 light years into intergalactic space from a distant quasar.
Data from the Chandra Observatory continue to astonish scientists. Chandras first look at the Andromeda Galaxy, announced last month, revealed that the gas funneling into a super-massive black hole at the heart of the galaxy is an unexpectedly cool million degrees. A typical X-ray star in the Andromeda Galaxy has a temperature of several tens of millions of degrees.
The images from Chandra are just breathtaking, said Michael Turner, the Bruce and Diana Rauner Distinguished Service Professor in Astronomy & Astrophysics.
Even the most jaded astronomer who didnt think we could learn much from pictures is now willing to say a picture is worth a million words.
Chandra is important because it provides X-ray eyes on the universe, Turner said.
Most of the interesting things in the universe are happening in X-rays, he said. Most of the matter around black holes, for example, give off X-rays, which are invisible to optical telescopes. Chandra is allowing us to see the bulk of the universe, he said.
Lalitha Chandrasekhar witnessed the historic launch of the Chandra X-ray Observatory aboard the space shuttle Columbia last July 23. Still basking in the glow of the spectacular nighttime launch a week later, Mrs. Chandrasekhar pondered how her late husband would have reacted to the discoveries that would soon flow from his namesake, the worlds largest and most sensitive X-ray telescope.
There is no question he would rejoice to learn of what the X-ray satellite had discovered in its exploration in space, Mrs. Chandra said.
Along with the Hubble Space Telescope and the Compton Gamma-ray Observatory, Chandra is the third of NASAs Great Observatories named for a University scientist.