R Aquarii, All Wavelengths
Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO/R. Montez et al.; Optical: Data: NASA/ESA/STScI, Enhanced processing by Judy Schmidt (CC BY-NC-SA). X-ray/Optical composite processing by CXC/N. Wolk & K.Arcand; Sonification: NASA/CXC/SAO/K.Arcand, SYSTEM Sounds (M. Russo, A. Santaguida)
The system called R Aquarii unfolds dramatically through the eyes of NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory (purple) and Hubble Space Telescope (red and blue). The spectacular structures outlined in the Hubble data are old notes, or in other words, evidence from outbursts generated by a pair of stars buried at the center of the image. X-rays from Chandra reveal how a jet from one of these stars — a cool stellar ember known as a white dwarf — is banging into the material surrounding it. This high-powered flow creates shock waves, similar to sonic booms from planes that move faster than the speed of sound. The other player with the white dwarf in this interstellar duet is a red giant star. As they orbit each other, the white dwarf pulls material from the red giant onto its surface. Over time, enough of this material accumulates and triggers an explosion. Astronomers have seen such outbursts over recent decades and this dynamic chorus will likely go on for millennia to come.