Some of the first images taken by JWST have been refreshed with the help of data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory – and they might just be some of the most beautiful pictures to date.
The recently released psychedelic images are the product of combining JWST’s infrared vision with Chandra’s X-ray vision. Not only are they visually stunning, but this collaboration has also revealed some new astronomical features that have not been appreciated before.
One of the images (shown above) shows the Cartwheel Galaxy, a galaxy about 500 million light-years away that got its distinctive shape from a collision with another smaller galaxy about 100 million years ago.
Chandra’s X-rays can be seen in blue and purple, depicting the galaxy’s superheated gas, neutron stars and black holes pulling material from companion stars. Meanwhile, JWST’s infrared data is shown in red, orange, yellow, green and blue, which highlights its two smaller companion galaxies and the wider backdrop of other distant galaxies.
Composite image of Stephan’s Quintet using JWST and Chandra data. Image credit: Radiography: NASA/CXC/SAO; IR (Spitzer): NASA/JPL-Caltech; IR (Webb): NASA/ESA/CSA/STScI
Another snapshot (above) shows the unusual shape of Stephan’s Quintet, a compact galaxy group consisting of five galaxies. This latest image shows never-before-seen details of this heavily studied galaxy.
Here, the JWST data (shown in red, orange, yellow, green, blue) show sweeping gas tails and bursts of star formation. The Chandra data (light blue) also revealed a shock wave of superheated gas created by the galaxies passing each other at about 3.2 million kilometers (2 million miles) per hour.
Stefan’s Quintet image also used earlier infrared data from NASA’s now retired Spitzer Space Telescope (red, green, blue).
Composite image of the SMACS galaxy cluster J0723 using JWST and Chandra data. Image credit: Radiography: NASA/CXC/SAO; IR (Spitzer): NASA/JPL-Caltech; IR (Webb): NASA/ESA/CSA/STScI
Next, we see the galaxy cluster SMACS J0723 (pictured above), found about 4.2 billion light-years away. Galaxy clusters like this contain tons of superheated gas, as shown in blue from the Chandra data in the center of the image.
Last but not least, there is the image (below) of NGC 3324, also known as the Cosmic Rocks of the Carina Nebula, a huge bundle of gas and dust where stars are born. JWST released a great color image of this nebula in July 2022, but the Chandra data reveals some new X-ray sources (pink). The X-rays of young stars are much brighter than old stars, giving astronomers an idea of when they may have formed.
Composite image of the Carina Nebula using JWST and Chandra data. Image credit: Radiography: NASA/CXC/SAO; IR (Spitzer): NASA/JPL-Caltech; IR (Webb): NASA/ESA/CSA/STScI