Astronomers used Chandra X-ray data to shed stunning new light on James Webb images

James Webb was "designed to work in concert with NASA's many other telescopes".
Chris Young
The original James Webb Cartwheel galaxy image (left) and the new (right).
The original James Webb Cartwheel galaxy image (left) and the new (right).

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NASA has released stunning new versions of existing James Webb Space Telescope images.

U.S. space agency scientists combined data from James Webb and the Chandra X-ray Observatory before releasing the new images on Tuesday, October 4.

The new images include updated versions of Webb's first set of full-color images, such as the pictures of galaxy cluster SMACS 0723, Stephan’s Quintet, the Carina Nebula, and the Cartwheel galaxy.

A NASA press statement explains that James Webb "is designed to work in concert with NASA's many other telescopes as well as facilities both in space and on the ground."

Chandra data highlights unseens details in James Webb images

By combining X-ray data from Chandra with James Webb's infrared data, NASA says they showed "how the power of any of these telescopes is only enhanced when joined with others."

The Chandra data comes from previous images taken by the same regions of the sky, with that data then being added over that of James Webb to create composite images. The new data has helped to uncover new, previously unseen information hidden in James Webb's images.

In the first-ever scientific James Webb image of SMACS 0723, for example, the Chandra data (in blue) reveals gas with temperatures of tens of millions of degrees, with a total mass of approximately 100 trillion times that of our Sun.

Astronomers used Chandra X-ray data to shed stunning new light on James Webb images
The updated image of SMACS 0723 reveals new details in blue.

For the Carina Nebula image, meanwhile, NASA says, "the diffuse X-ray emission in the top half of the image likely comes from hot gas from the three hottest, most massive stars in the star cluster. They are all outside the field of view of the Webb image."

Astronomers used Chandra X-ray data to shed stunning new light on James Webb images
The Carina Nebula composite image.

The Chandra data in the image of Stephan's Quintet uncovered a shock wave caused by one galaxy passing through another at speeds of up to 2 million mph. According to NASA, the shock wave heats any surrounding gas to tens of millions of degrees.

Astronomers used Chandra X-ray data to shed stunning new light on James Webb images
The updated Stephan's Quintet image.

In the updated image of the Cartwheel Galaxy, blue and purple X-rays highlight superheated gas, neutron stars, exploded stars, and black holes pulling away from nearby stars.

Astronomers used Chandra X-ray data to shed stunning new light on James Webb images
The new version of the James Webb Cartwheel Galaxy image.

Combining the powers of Chandra and James Webb

Chandra is a space observatory that launched back in 1999. It uses a highly sensitive X-ray telescope, imaging spectrometer, and high-resolution camera to capture X-ray emissions, whereas James Webb primarily makes observations in the infrared spectrum with its incredibly powerful instruments.

In a separate press release, Charlie Atkinson, chief engineer of James Webb Space Telescope at Northrop Grumman said, "both Chandra and Webb push beyond what’s thought to be possible. These remarkable images from both telescopes complement each other to reveal incredible new details and further expand our understanding of the cosmos."

Stay posted for more composite images in the near future, as NASA scientists continue to make the most of the treasure trove of data in each James Webb image that releases, or has already been released.

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