NASAs X-ray observatory Chandra has madean incredible observation. In a single image, it was able to capture the birth, middle-age, and after-death state of stars.
The remarkable image is of Cygnus X-3, a very luminousX-ray binary where a compact object (either a black hole or a neutron star) is orbited by a companion. In this case, the companion is a massive star and the compact source is stealing material from it.
In 2003, astronomers discovered a cloud reflecting the X-rays emitted by the pair, but follow-up observations have discovered that the cloud is far from ordinary. Nicknamed Little Friend, it is a Bok globulea small, cold, and dark nebula containing dense gas and dust. Inside Little Friend, which is 0.7 light-years across, a star is forming.
The discovery was only possible with the Submillimeter Array (SMA), a series of eight radio telescope dishes on top of Mauna Kea in Hawaii. The SMA discovered radio jets originating from deep within the cloud, an indication that a protostar is forming and it is pushing material out of Little Friend.
The annotated image shows the X-raydata from Chandra and radio data from the Submillimeter Array. X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO/M.McCollough et al, Radio: ASIAA/SAO/SMA
The research, published in theAstrophysical Journal Letters,was conducted by astronomers at the Smithsonian Observatory and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Cygnus X-3 is located about 25,000 light-years from Earth and is a powerhouse both in terms of emitted light and particles. In fact, its one of the few sources of ultra-high-energy cosmic rays 10 to 100 times more energetic than what we can produce in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).
For this reason, some scientists believe the compact source within Cygnus X-3 is neither a neutron star nor a black hole, but a more exotic star made of quarks, the fundamental particles that make up protons and neutrons.
Theres still a lot to be discovered about stellar evolution, but its nice to seethis generation portrait of the different stages of a stars life.