Space Telescope Opens Its X-Ray Eyes

Space Telescope Opens Its X-Ray Eyes

NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, has snapped its first test images of the sizzling high-energy X-ray universe. The observatory, launched June 13, is the first space telescope with the ability to focus high-energy X-rays, the same kind used by doctors and dentists, into crisp images.

Soon, the mission will begin its exploration of hidden black holes; fiery cinder balls left over from star explosions; and other sites of extreme physics in the cosmos.

“Today, we obtained the first-ever focused images of the high-energy X-ray universe,” said Fiona Harrison, the mission’s principal investigator at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, who first conceived of NuSTAR about 15 years ago. “It’s like putting on a new pair of glasses and seeing aspects of the world around us clearly for the first time.”

NuSTAR’s lengthy mast, which provides the telescope mirrors and detectors with the distance needed to focus X-rays, was deployed on June 21. The NuSTAR team spent the next week verifying the pointing and motion capabilities of the satellite, and fine-tuning the alignment of the mast.

The first images from the observatory show Cygnus X-1, a black hole in our galaxy that is siphoning gas off a giant-star companion. The inset image on the top right was taken with the INTEGRAL high-energy telescope. The bottom image shows NuSTAR’s snapshot of the central part of that image.

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