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Look: 5 space objects reveal how invisible light illuminates the universe

More than meets the eye.

The universe has many faces.

With a naked eye, we can spot the gold, white, and brassy hues of stars and other objects from our vantage point on Earth.

But visible light illuminates just a fraction of what exists in space.

Telescope data captures the information we can’t see, thanks to its ability to pick up on wavelengths that are invisible to the eye.

MARK GARLICK/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY/Science Photo Library/Getty Images

James Yu/Moment/Getty Images

Capturing high and low-frequency waves outside the visible spectrum can illuminate the forces at play in objects like nebulae, black holes, and colliding galaxies.

When astronomers create images where invisible light is converted to colors we can see, the universe looks stunningly vibrant.

NASA/STScI

In early February, the Chandra X-Ray Observatory released a gallery of images showcasing five objects in the universe imaged through visible, X-ray, and radio wavelengths.

Here’s what invisible light reveals about 5 iconic space objects:

1. R Aquarii

In visible light, two stars — a dull white dwarf and glowing red giant — can be seen at the center of this image.

As they orbit, the white dwarf strips material from the red giant and periodically erupts. This X-ray view captures a forceful jet spewing from the star and bumping into other objects.

NASA/CXC/SAO

Here’s what the jet stream looks like streaking across the visible landscape of R Aquarii.

2. Cassiopeia A

The supernova remnant Cas A looks like a cluster of brassy clouds in visible light. But its explosive expanse can only be detected at invisible wavelengths.

NASA/STScI

Cas A is the result of an explosion that happened just 300 years ago. It emits the strongest source of radio waves (seen here) outside of the Solar System.

NSF/NRAO/VLA

In addition to radio waves, X-ray telescopes can pick up on the emission of different elements, such as silicon (red), sulfur (yellow), calcium (green), and iron (light purple).

NASA/CXC/SAO

Visible light, radio, and X-ray give us the fullest picture of this explosive remnant.

NASA/CXC/SAO; STScI; NSF/NRAO/VLA

3. Abell 2597

Beware the void! Not only does Abell 2597’s supermassive black hole devour cold, dense gasses, but it also spews hot ones in fountain-like formations.

Abell 2597 in visible light

Abell galaxy in X-ray

The swirling gas spews can be seen here in X-ray wavelengths.

Hydrogen emissions have also been detected around the black hole.

LCO/IMACS/MMTF

And with the images combined, the true expanse of Abell 2579’s black hole can be seen here.

4. Guitar Nebula

Inside this cluster of stars and gas is a nebula shaped like an acoustic guitar.

NASA/STScI

But a hidden burst of energy from a pulsar can be seen at X-Ray wavelengths.

NASA/CXC/SAO

The Guitar Nebula formed when a star exploded unevenly on its way to becoming a pulsar. The violent shove can be seen in this composite.

NASA/STScI; NASA/CXC/SAO

5. NGC 4490

The bright valleys of stars in NGC 4490 would be nothing without the galaxy’s constant interaction with its neighboring galaxy, NGC 4485.

NASA/STScI

NASA/CXC/SAO

But some of the galaxy’s more peculiar objects — black holes and neutron stars — can’t be seen without an X-ray telescope.

Here is the full spectrum of a galaxy 25 million light-years from Earth.

NASA/STScI; NASA/CXC/SAO