X-Ray Vision of our Sister Galaxy

m51_w11Roy Kilgard, support astronomer and research assistant professor of astronomy, together with Trevor Dorn-Wallenstein ’15 and Tyler Desjardins MA ’11, recently presented a stunning new picture of the Whirlpool Galaxy, also known as M51 or NGC 5194. According to NBC News’ coverage, the picture from NASA’s Chandra X-ray observatory “combines data from more than 232 hours worth of Chandra’s observations, gathered over the course of 12 years, and highlights hundreds of previously undetected X-ray sources.”

Kilgard tells Universe Today, “This is the deepest, high-resolution exposure of the full disk of any spiral galaxy that’s ever been taken in the X-ray.” The image appears to show evidence that the Whirlpool Galaxy is in the process of colliding with a smaller companion galaxy, which would trigger waves of rapid star formation.

“In this image, there’s a very strong correlation between the fuzzy purple stuff, which is hot gas in the X-ray, and the fuzzy red stuff, which is hydrogen gas in the optical,” said Kilgard. “Both of these are tracing the star formation very actively. You can see it really enhanced in the northern arm that approaches the companion galaxy.”

Read more coverage on Space.

K.D. Kuntz of Johns Hopkins University was also a co-author.