NASA scientist have released images combining the early data from the James Webb Space Telescope with X-ray data taken with the Chandra Observatory. Besides their beauty, the images offer insights into the inner workings of some of the most complex astrophysical phenomena in the universe.
Different wavelengths of light reveal different kinds of information about the cosmos. Each new telescope that we launch into space or open up on the ground offers a new window into processes that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to perceive.
For example, the James Webb Space Telescope is focused on infrared radiation. Infrared radiation is emitted by warm objects and is excellent at passing through gas clouds without being absorbed or getting scattered. This allows astronomers to peer into the hearts of dense dust clouds like the kind that surround newly forming stars.
At the other end of the energy spectrum sits the Chandra C-ray Observatory. X-rays are produced by some of the most energetic events in the cosmos, like supernovae and pulsars. The radiation we get in the X-ray tells us about how these high energy processes operate.
The best kind of astronomy happens when we combine different wavelengths. In the latest case, NASA scientists took the recently published early release images from the James Webb Space Telescope and overlaid Chandra X-ray Observatory observations of the same objects.
Scientists have not yet mined through the images and published their research, but we can already draw some conclusions. The X-ray radiation tells us where high energy processes are taking place, while the infrared tells us where warm objects are obscured by dust clouds. For example, the image of Stephan’s Quintet shows 5 galaxies. Above the two galaxies at the center sits a squiggly cloud. This is a shockwave revealed by Chandra that wouldn’t otherwise be visible.