Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2001 May 24
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X-Ray Stars of 47 Tucanae
Credit: X-Ray: J. Grindlay (CfA) et al., CXO, NASA
Optical: W. Keel (U. Alabama Tuscaloosa) et al., 1.5-m Telescope, CTIO

Explanation: A deep optical image (left) of 47 Tucanae shows an ancient globular star cluster so dense and crowded that individual stars can not be distinguished in its closely packed core. An x-ray image of its central regions (inset right) from the Chandra Observatory reveals a wealth of x-ray stars hidden there. Color-coded by energy, low energies are red, medium are green, and high energy cosmic x-ray sources are blue, while whitish sources are bright across the x-ray energy bands. The x-ray stars here are double stars or "compact" binary star systems. They are so called because one of the pair of stellar companions is a normal star and the other a compact object -- a white dwarf, neutron star, or possibly a black hole. Chandra's x-ray vision detects the presence of an unexpectedly large number of these exotic star systems within 47 Tucanae, but it also indicates the apparent absence of a large central black hole. The finding suggests that compact binary star systems of 47 Tucanae may be ejected from the cluster before coalescing to form a large black hole at its core.

Tomorrow's picture: Saturn The Giant

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Authors & editors: Robert Nemiroff (MTU) & Jerry Bonnell (USRA)
NASA Technical Rep.: Jay Norris. Specific rights apply.
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