Successful launch for NASA's 'black hole hunter' telescope

Jun 13, 2012 by Kerry Sheridan
A NASA illustration of NuSTAR, a sophisticated orbiting telescope that uses high-energy X-rays to hunt for black holes, poised to launch on June 13, 2012.

A sophisticated orbiting telescope that uses high-energy X-ray vision to hunt for black holes in the universe launched on Wednesday after an aircraft-to-rocket takeoff, NASA said.

The Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) was lifted into the skies by Orbital Sciences' L-1011 aircraft, carrying a rocket on its underbelly that later launched the satellite.

"NuSTAR will help us find the most elusive and most energetic black holes, to help us understand the structure of the universe," said Fiona Harrison, the principal investigator on NuSTAR.

The project aims to study energetic phenomena such as clusters of galaxies, black holes and the explosions of massive stars. It will also study the Sun's atmosphere for hints on how it is heated, NASA said.

The mission aims to work in concert with other telescopes in space, including NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, which observes lower-energy X-rays.

"NuSTAR will open a new window on the universe and will provide complementary data to NASA's larger missions including Fermi, Chandra, Hubble and Spitzer," said Paul Hertz, NASA's Astrophysics Division Director.

Harrison, a professor at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California, said it will be the "first telescope to focus high energy X-rays" and will make "images that are 10 times crisper and 100 times more sensitive than any telescope that has operated in this region of the spectrum."

NuSTAR is more potent than its predecessors because of the way it focuses high-energy X-ray light by using nested shells of mirrors to prevent the light from reflecting off.

With 133 nested mirrors in each of two optical units, the telescope also uses state-of-the-art detectors and a long mast that connects the optical units to the detectors and allows enough distance for a sharp focus.

The 33-foot (10-meter) mast will launch in a folded-up position but will extend about a week after launch, bringing it to about the length of a school bus.

"It used to be thought that black holes were rare and exotic -- that was just 20 years ago," Harrison told reporters.

"Today we know that every massive galaxy, like our Milky Way, has a massive black hole at its heart."

The new observatory aims to give a better view of the workings of a black hole, since the dust and gas that gets sucked into the gravity of a black hole becomes quite hot from speed and friction created as it circulates around the edge.

Its method of launch, from a rocket hitched to a plane, was less expensive than ground-based launches because it required less fuel to boost cargo away from the pull of Earth's gravity, the US space agency said.

The jet took off from Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.

The first data from the telescope is not expected for about 30 days.

Explore further: The changing laws that determine how dust affects the light that reaches us from the stars

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

NASA preparing to launch NuSTAR, its newest X-ray eyes

May 30, 2012

(Phys.org) -- NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, is being prepared for the final journey to its launch pad on Kwajalein Atoll in the central Pacific Ocean. The mission will study everything ...

NASA's NuSTAR gearing up for launch

May 23, 2012

(Phys.org) -- Final pre-launch preparations are underway for NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR. The mission, which will use X-ray vision to hunt for hidden black holes, is scheduled to ...

Engineers tuck nuSTAR in its nose cone

Mar 05, 2012

(PhysOrg.com) -- Technicians at Vandenberg Air Force Base in central California are placing the two halves of the rocket nose cone, or fairing, around NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR), ...

NASA's NuSTAR ships to Vandenberg for March 14 launch

Jan 25, 2012

(PhysOrg.com) -- NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, shipped to Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., on Tuesday, to be mated to its Pegasus launch vehicle. The observatory will detect X-rays ...

NuSTAR mated to its rocket

Feb 20, 2012

(PhysOrg.com) -- NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) is being mated, or attached, to its Pegasus XL rocket today at Vandenberg Air Force Base in central California.

Recommended for you

ESO image: A study in scarlet

15 hours ago

This new image from ESO's La Silla Observatory in Chile reveals a cloud of hydrogen called Gum 41. In the middle of this little-known nebula, brilliant hot young stars are giving off energetic radiation that ...

Astronomers: 'Tilt-a-worlds' could harbor life

Apr 15, 2014

A fluctuating tilt in a planet's orbit does not preclude the possibility of life, according to new research by astronomers at the University of Washington, Utah's Weber State University and NASA. In fact, ...

Pushy neighbors force stellar twins to diverge

Apr 15, 2014

(Phys.org) —Much like an environment influences people, so too do cosmic communities affect even giant dazzling stars: Peering deep into the Milky Way galaxy's center from a high-flying observatory, Cornell ...

Image: Multiple protostars within IRAS 20324+4057

Apr 14, 2014

(Phys.org) —A bright blue tadpole appears to swim through the inky blackness of space. Known as IRAS 20324+4057 but dubbed "the Tadpole", this clump of gas and dust has given birth to a bright protostar, ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Meteorites yield clues to Martian early atmosphere

(Phys.org) —Geologists who analyzed 40 meteorites that fell to Earth from Mars unlocked secrets of the Martian atmosphere hidden in the chemical signatures of these ancient rocks. Their study, published ...

Red moon at night; stargazer's delight

Monday night's lunar eclipse proved just as delightful as expected to those able to view it. On the East Coast, cloudy skies may have gotten in the way, but at the National Science Foundation's National Optical ...

Let's put a sailboat on Titan

The large moons orbiting the gas giants in our solar system have been getting increasing attention in recent years. Titan, Saturn's largest moon, is the only natural satellite known to house a thick atmosphere. ...

Down's chromosome cause genome-wide disruption

The extra copy of Chromosome 21 that causes Down's syndrome throws a spanner into the workings of all the other chromosomes as well, said a study published Wednesday that surprised its authors.