Composite X-ray/radio image of a star-forming cloud near the X-ray binary Cygnus X-3
Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO/M.McCollough et al, Radio: ASIAA/SAO/SMA

The Stellar Circle of Life and Death

Massive stars die explosively, and usually leave behind a compact object such as a black hole or neutron star. The star system called Cygnus X-3 is an especially interesting example of an endpoint of stellar evolution. Cyg X-3 consists of a compact object (we're still not sure if this compact object is a neutron star or a black hole) which accretes material off a massive companion star. The accretion of this material by the compact object fuels powerful X-ray emission. This bright X-ray emission has now illuminated for astronomers a new stellar nursery near the dead star, seen for the first time by the Chandra X-ray Observatory. Chandra's X-ray image of Cygnus X-3 is shown above. Cygnus X-3 is the bright X-ray source near the middle of the image, and just to the left of Cygnus X-3, Chandra detected a weak, extended X-ray source. The X-ray emission from this nearby source varies with the same 4.8-hour variability shown by Cygnus X-3. The Chandra X-ray data reveal that this weak source is actually a cold, dark cloud reflecting X-rays from Cygnus X-3. Followup radio observations using the Submillimeter Array on Mauna Kea in Hawaii show radio jets emerging from this dark cloud. The jets are shown in red and blue above: the blue jet is pointing towards us, while the red jet is pointing away from us. Astronomers believe that these jets are produced by an otherwise unseen new star that's being formed at the center of the dark cloud. A new flower growing in this stellar graveyard.
Published: December 5, 2016

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Page Author: Dr. Michael F. Corcoran
Last modified Monday, 05-Dec-2016 10:18:30 EST