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X-ray Discovery Points to Location of Missing Matter

Copyright NASA

Using observations with NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and ESA’s XMM-Newton, astronomers have announced a robust detection of a vast reservoir of intergalactic gas about 400 million light years from Earth. This discovery is the strongest evidence yet that the “missing matter” in the nearby Universe is located in an enormous web of hot, diffuse gas.

This missing matter — which is different from dark matter — is composed of baryons, the particles, such as protons and electrons, that are found on the Earth, in stars, gas, galaxies, and so on. A variety of measurements of distant gas clouds and galaxies have provided a good estimate of the amount of this “normal matter” present when the universe was only a few billion years old. However, an inventory of the much older, nearby universe has turned up only about half as much normal matter, an embarrassingly large shortfall.

The mystery then is where does this missing matter reside in the nearby universe? This latest work supports predictions that it is mostly found in a web of hot, diffuse gas known as the Warm-Hot Intergalactic Medium (WHIM). Scientists think the WHIM is material left over after the formation [...]

Einstein’s Theory Fights Off Challengers

Copyright NASA

Two new and independent studies have put Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity to the test like never before. These results, made using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, show Einstein’s theory is still the best game in town.

Each team of scientists took advantage of extensive Chandra observations of galaxy clusters, the largest objects in the Universe bound together by gravity. One result undercuts a rival gravity model to General Relativity, while the other shows that Einstein’s theory works over a vast range of times and distances across the cosmos.

The first finding significantly weakens a competitor to General Relativity known as “f(R) gravity”.

“If General Relativity were the heavyweight boxing champion, this other theory was hoping to be the upstart contender,” said Fabian Schmidt of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, who led the study. “Our work shows that the chances of its upsetting the champ are very slim.”

In recent years, physicists have turned their attention to competing theories to General Relativity as a possible explanation for the accelerated expansion of the universe. Currently, the most popular explanation for the acceleration is the so-called cosmological constant, which can be understood as energy that exists in empty [...]

NASA’s Chandra Reveals Origin of Key Cosmic Explosions

Copyright NASA

New findings from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory have provided a major advance in understanding a type of supernova critical for studying the dark energy that astronomers think pervades the universe. The results show mergers of two dense stellar remnants are the likely cause of many of the supernovae that have been used to measure the accelerated expansion of the universe.

These supernovae, called Type 1a, serve as cosmic mile markers to measure expansion of the universe because they can be seen at large distances, and they follow a reliable pattern of brightness. However, until now, scientists have been unsure what actually causes the explosions.

“These are such critical objects in understanding the universe,” said Marat Gilfanov of the Max PlanckInstitute for Astrophysics in Germany and lead author of the study that appears in the Feb. 18 edition of the journal Nature. “It was a major embarrassment that we did not know how they worked. Now we are beginning to understand what lights the fuse of these explosions.”

Most scientists agree a Type 1a supernova occurs when a white dwarf star — a collapsed remnant of an elderly star — exceeds its weight limit, becomes [...]

X-ray satellites discover the biggest collisions in the universe


Copyright ESA

The orbiting X-ray telescopes XMM-Newton and Chandra have caught a pair of galaxy clusters merging into a giant cluster. The discovery adds to existing evidence that galaxy clusters can collide faster than previously thought.

When individual galaxies collide and spiral into one another, they discard trails of hot gas that stretch across space, providing signposts to the mayhem. Recognising the signs of collisions between whole clusters of galaxies, however, is not as easy.

Undaunted, Renato Dupke and colleagues from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, have used ESA’s XMM-Newton and NASA’s Chandra orbiting X-ray observatories, to disentangle the puzzling galaxy cluster, Abell 576.

Previous X-ray observations had hinted that the gas was not moving uniformly across the cluster. Using the superior sensitivity and spectral resolution of XMM-Newton and Chandra’s high spatial resolution, Dupke took readings from two locations in the cluster and saw that there was a distinct difference in the velocity of the gas. One part of the cluster seemed to be moving away from us faster than the other.

The puzzle was that the moving gas itself was cold by astronomical standards. If this gas moved at such high speeds, it should have had a temperature [...]

X-ray evidence supports possible new class of supernova


Copyright ESA

Evidence for a significant new class of supernova has been found with the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton and NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory. These results strengthen the case for a population of stars that evolve rapidly and are destroyed by thermonuclear explosions. Such ‘prompt’ supernovas could be valuable tools for probing the early history of the cosmos.

A team of astronomers uncovered a puzzling situation when they examined X-ray data from DEM L238 and DEM L249, the remnants of two supernovas in a nearby galaxy. On the one hand, the unusually high concentration of iron atoms implied that the remnants are the products of thermonuclear explosions of white dwarf stars, a well-known type of supernova known as ‘Type Ia’. On the other hand, the hot gas in the remnants was much denser and brighter in X-rays than typical Type Ia remnants.

A white dwarf, the dense final stage in the evolution of a sun-like star, is a very stable object and will not explode on its own. However, if a white dwarf has a close companion star it can grow beyond a critical mass by pulling gas off the companion and explode.

Computer simulations of Type Ia supernova remnants [...]