The Chandra X-ray Observatory is one of NASA’s Great Observatories, along with the Hubble Space Telescope. Chandra detects X-ray light from very hot (millions of degrees) places in the Universe, such as exploding stars, galaxy clusters and matter swirling into black holes.
Chandra launched into space on July 23, 1999, aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia (mission STS-93). Chandra is about the size of a school bus, and it travels in an elliptical orbit, going about one third of the way to the Moon at its farthest point from Earth.
In its more than 20 years of operation, Chandra and X-ray astronomy as a whole have played a pivotal role in uncovering and solving the mysteries of the Universe. We look forward to what the next years may bring!
The video below is an introductory video about the Chandra X-ray Observatory.
Why study the Universe with an X-ray telescope?
Light comes in many energies called the electromagnetic spectrum. The only light human eyes can detect is visible light. Sunshine is mostly visible light.
But objects in the sky also shine in kinds of light that humans can’t detect, such as radio, infrared, microwave, ultraviolet, X-ray or gamma ray. If such objects are very, very hot (millions of degrees), or very energetic, they can shine in X-rays.
NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory detects the objects in our Universe that give off X-rays. We can create representations of these objects by taking the data and processing them into images, into 3D prints, into virtual reality, or even sounds. We provide a number of resources for people to explore the X-ray Universe themselves including:
3D Models: Despite our limited abilities to travel to distant objects in outer space that can be thousands of light years — if not millions or billions of light years away — astronomers, computer scientists, and other specialists are developing 3D models of the stars with data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and other telescopes. The 3D modeling and printing of objects in our Universe offer unique tools to understanding scientific data. If you have access to a 3D printer, we offer free 3D files in .stl format of these space based objects that can be printed out. In that way, you can hold a star, an exploded star or another kind of cosmic object in the palm of your hand. Link to 3D print the Universe (Chandra 3D printer files).
Tactile Kits: We have combined some of our favorite 3D printed models, along with tactile and Braille panels and audio files where feasible, into two free kits. Link to Touch the Universe (tactile kits).
The Touchable Universe kit contains five 3D prints created from NASA data including three models from Chandra: Supernova remnant Cassiopeia A (which also uses NASA infrared as well as ground-based optical data), Supernova 1987a, and the double star system and nova V745 SCO; as well as two models from Hubble and other data: Eta Carina, a bright star system, and the star-formation region known commonly as the Pillars of Creation.
The Mini stars kit explores three examples of stellar objects in our own cosmic backyard, the Milky Way galaxy, that we can feel in 3D through the mapping of direct observations in the sky. The set includes a region of star birth (Pillars of Creation), a mature star system (Eta Carinae), and an exploded star that left behind a dense core (Crab Nebula).
Sonifications: Sonification is the translation of information into sound. We have created translations of our images into sound so they can be enjoyed in new ways. Listen to our soundscapes of data from the center of our Milky Way galaxy, where a supermassive black hole resides, or hear a field of thousands of black holes represented as sound. Link to Listen to our Universe (Chandra sonifications).
Visual Descriptions: A new digital project to help connect people with the science of NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory launched in January 2021. The project provides verbal descriptions of high energy astrophysics images, time-lapse movies or sonifications, when they are released by NASA. The information is in text and audio formats along with a podcast feed Link to Chandra Visual Descriptions Podcasts.
Space Stories for Kids: Space Scoops are short news articles about astronomical discoveries, written in a child-friendly language. Space Scoop makes a wonderful tool that can be used in many different settings to teach, share and discuss the latest astronomy news, adapted specially for kids. Link to Space Scoop.