Science & Tech

Star factory near galactic center bathed in high-energy X-rays

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Observation supports theoretical model

A team of astronomers, including some from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, has looked into the core of our own Milky Way galaxy and discovered a new phenomenon. The “cauldron” of 60-million-degree gas surrounding a group of young stars in the Arches Cluster supports earlier theoretical predictions about what happens when solar winds from massive stars collide with each other: they form very hot gas and generate X-rays. The discovery was made by a research team headed by Professor Farhad Zadeh of Northwestern University. The team used NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory to make its observations. Massive stars, newborn stars, and stellar winds have long been known to emit X-rays. The Chandra results are significant because they identify this new type of mechanism of colliding winds to generate X-rays as energetic as those seen in distant starburst galaxies, which are known for their furious pace of star production. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, AL, manages the Chandra program. The Smithsonian’s Chandra X-ray Center controls science and flight operations from Cambridge, MA.