NASA Releases Eight Stunning Never-Before-Seen Images of the CosmosS

In honor of American Archive Month, NASA has selected eight images from a group of unique celestial objects taken by the Chandra X-Ray Observatory. It's the first time these images have ever been seen by the public — and they're as freaky as they are gorgeous.

All images and captions NASA/CSC/SAO.

The Chandra Data Archive (CDA) allows scientists and the general public to access data collected by the Chandra X-Ray Observatory. This particular batch of images selected by NASA for American Archive Month "represent the observations of thousands of objects that are permanently available to the world thanks to Chandra’s archive," writes the agency in its official release. And here they are:

G266.2-1.2

NASA Releases Eight Stunning Never-Before-Seen Images of the Cosmos

This object was produced by the explosion of a massive star in the Milky Way galaxy. A Chandra observation of this supernova remnant reveals the presence of extremely high-energy particles produced as the shock wave from this explosion expands into interstellar space. In this image, the X-rays from Chandra (purple) have been combined with optical data from the Digitized Sky Survey (red, green, and blue).


3C353

NASA Releases Eight Stunning Never-Before-Seen Images of the CosmosS

Jets generated by supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies can transport huge amounts of energy across great distances. 3C353 is a wide, double-lobed source where the galaxy is the tiny point in the center and giant plumes of radiation can be seen in X-rays from Chandra (purple) and radio data from the Very Large Array (orange).


NGC 3576

NASA Releases Eight Stunning Never-Before-Seen Images of the Cosmos

A region of glowing gas in the Sagittarius arm of the Milky Way galaxy, NGC 3576 is located about 9,000 light years from Earth. Such nebulas present a tableau of the drama of the evolution of massive stars, from the formation in vast dark clouds, their relatively brief (a few million years) lives, and the eventual destruction in supernova explosions. The diffuse X-ray data detected by Chandra (blue) are likely due to the winds from young, massive stars that are blowing throughout the nebula. Optical data from ESO are shown in orange and yellow.


NGC 4945

NASA Releases Eight Stunning Never-Before-Seen Images of the CosmosS

This image provides a view into the central region of a galaxy that is similar in overall appearance to our own Milky Way, but contains a much more active supermassive black hole within the white area near the top. This galaxy, known as NGC 4945, is only about 13 million light years from Earth and is seen edge-on. X-rays from Chandra (blue), which have been overlaid on an optical image from the European Space Observatory, reveal the presence of the supermassive black hole at the center of this galaxy.

Wide view of N6C 4945:

NASA Releases Eight Stunning Never-Before-Seen Images of the CosmosS


IC 1396A

NASA Releases Eight Stunning Never-Before-Seen Images of the CosmosS

When radiation and winds from massive young stars impact clouds of cool gas, they can trigger new generations of stars to form. This is what may be happening in this object known as the Elephant Trunk Nebula (or its official name of IC 1396A). X-rays from Chandra (purple) have been combined with optical (red, green, and blue) and infrared (orange and cyan) to give a more complete picture of this source.

Wide view of IC 1396A:

NASA Releases Eight Stunning Never-Before-Seen Images of the CosmosS


3C 397 (G41.1-0.3)

NASA Releases Eight Stunning Never-Before-Seen Images of the CosmosS

This object, also known as G41.1-0.3), is a Galactic supernova remnant with an unusual shape. Researchers think its box-like appearance is produced as the heated remains of the exploded star — detected by Chandra in X-rays (purple) — runs into cooler gas surrounding it. This composite of the area around 3C 397 also contains infrared emission from Spitzer (yellow) and optical data from the Digitized Sky Survey (red, green, and blue).


SNR B0049-73.6

NASA Releases Eight Stunning Never-Before-Seen Images of the CosmosS

The details of how massive stars explode remains one of the biggest questions in astrophysics. Located in the neighboring galaxy of the Small Magellanic Cloud, this supernova, SNR B0049-73.6, provides astronomers with another excellent example of such an explosion to study. Chandra observations of the dynamics and composition of the debris from the explosion support the view that the explosion was produced by the collapse of the central core of a star. In this image, X-rays from Chandra (purple) are combined with infrared data from the 2MASS survey (red, green, and blue).


NGC 6946

NASA Releases Eight Stunning Never-Before-Seen Images of the CosmosS

This object is a medium-sized, face-on spiral galaxy about 22 million light years away from Earth. In the past century, eight supernovas have been observed to explode in the arms of this galaxy. Chandra observations (purple) have, in fact, revealed three of the oldest supernovas ever detected in X-rays, giving more credence to its nickname of the “Fireworks Galaxy.” This composite image also includes optical data from the Gemini Observatory in red, yellow, and cyan.