Another View of Centaurus A

Centaurus A

Centaurus A across the wavelengths

We live in interesting times. Today — and just about any day you can imagine — you can type find new views of things in the cosmos simply by doing searches on the World Wide Web. One of my favorite sites these days is the Chandra X-ray Observatory web site. Chandra looks at things with x-ray eyes — seeing well beyond where our own eyes leave off. Objects emitting x-ray signals are among the hottest and busiest in the cosmos. What kind of places is Chandra seeing? The image above shows four views of the center of a nearby galaxy called Centaurus A. Astronomers have long known that this galaxy’s central region was noisy in radio wavelengths — but when they turned other “eyes” toward it, this is what they found. Centaurus A is the site of an ancient and incredibly destructive event called a galaxy merger. It began 100 million years ago when two galaxies began a death dance together. Their collision shattered both galaxies, spurred the births of clouds of blue-white stars, and warped the dust lane of one galaxy into a twisted pancake shape. There is almost certainly a supermassive black hole at the center of Centaurus A giving out tremendous bursts of x-ray and radio emissions. This object, like so many other fascinating places in the universe, is piquing astronomers’ curiosity as they seek to understand just what happened here and what will occur here in the future.

For more cool x-ray images of the sky, check the Chandra web site every few days to see what else this unique observatory is seeing!

Visions from the Cosmos

I’m working on a book and a planetarium show script these days — good things to be doing in the dog days of August! The book is a sort of general survey of astronomy and the script is about Hubble Space Telescope science. And of course, there are hundreds of great images from HST to show off. If you’re into exploring the universe with HST, visit Hubblesite and lose yourself in the cosmos for a while! And then when my book comes out sometime in 2003, you can read all about the science behind the great images from HST, Chandra, and all their sister observatories. In the meantime, here are a couple of interesting images from HST.

Hamburgers Anyone?

Gomezs Hamburger Object

Gomez's Hamburger Object

Probably just in time for summer cookout season, HST Heritage project astronomers took a close-up look at an object nicknamed Gomez’s Hamburger. This familiar-looking object was named after its discoverer — Arturo Gomez (who does his observing at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile). It may look strange, but this is a Sun-like star in its early death throes. You can’t exactly see the star because it’s hidden behind a ring of gas and dust. But you can see the light from the star emerging in a perpendicular direction to the disk. In a thousand years or so, the dying star will get hotter than its current 18,000 degrees — hot enough to evaporate away all that gas and dust. It should be a beautiful sight for our future generations!

Warp Me A Galaxy, Scotty!

ESO 510-G13 (Its a galaxy!)

ESO 510-G13 (It's a galaxy!)

There are many strange-looking things out in the universe — at least they’re strange until you understand what you’re seeing. In this case, what we’ve got here is ESO 510-G13 — an edge-on galaxy that has been twisted and warped by a collision with another galaxy. The titanic gravitational forces have, over millions of years, deformed the galaxies. Not only is the dark dust lane tracing the deformity, but the bright blue clouds of light on the right-hand side of the image are the first generation of massive newborn stars to be formed as a result of this galactic merger. Eventually the shock waves from the head-on collision will die out and a single, normal-looking galaxy will exist here.