Chandra X-ray image of W3 cluster
Credit: NASA/CXC/Penn State/L.Townsley et al.; Optical: Pal Obs. DSS


The arms of spiral galaxies are places full of gas and dust where new stars form. Because of the high gas and dust densities the process of star formation can be hidden from the prying eyes of astronomers. X-ray emission is one good way of studying star formation since X-rays, produced by young active stars, can penetrate through huge amounts of obscuring material. The X-ray image of the young molecular cloud complex W3 obtained by the Chandra X-ray observatory is a good case in point. W3 is located in the Perseus arm of the Milky Way, and is extremely young (only a few hundred thousand to a few million years old). The image above is a composite X-ray image and optical image of the cluster. Low energy X-ray emission is shown in green, while harder X-ray emission is in blue, while the optical image is shown in red. The X-ray image shows many hundreds of new stellar X-ray sources in the central part of W3. Astronomers suspect that the huge amounts of star formation in W3 might be influenced by a nearby "superbubble" expanding into the W3 molecular cloud.

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Page Author: Dr. Michael F. Corcoran
Last modified Wednesday, 19-Mar-2014 21:55:16 EDT