A snapshot of the stellar life cycle has been captured in a new portrait from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Smithsonian’s Submillimeter Array (SMA). A cloud that is giving birth to stars has been observed to reflect X-rays from Cygnus X-3, a source of X-rays produced by a system where a massive star is slowly being eaten by its companion black hole or neutron star. This discovery provides a new way to study how stars form.
In 2003, astronomers used Chandra’s high-resolution X-ray vision to find a mysterious source of X-ray emission located very close to Cygnus X-3. The separation of these two sources on the sky is equivalent to the width of a penny at a distance of 830 feet away. In 2013, astronomers reported that the new source is a cloud of gas and dust.
In astronomical terms, this cloud is rather small – about 0.7 light years in diameter. Astronomers realized that this cloud was acting as a mirror, reflecting some of the X-rays generated by Cygnus X-3 towards Earth. … (NASA/Chandra)