NuSTAR provides new look at black holes

Jun 11, 2012
This is an artist's rendering of NuSTAR. NuSTAR is the first telescope capable of focusing high-energy X-rays. It will also map supernova explosions and microflares on the surface of the sun. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

When NASA launches a new telescope this Wednesday that will look at black holes in ways never seen before, Georgia Tech astrophysicist David Ballantyne will be more than a curious bystander. He helped plan the mission.

Ballantyne, one of the Institute's black hole experts, is on the science team of NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic (), which is scheduled for launch Wednesday morning. He's one of a handful of people who decided where the high-energy X-ray will point while in orbit. NuSTAR's technology will allow it to image areas of the universe in never-before-seen ways. Ballantyne will be among the first scientists to see the images and examine the data when it becomes available this later this summer.

"NuSTAR will provide a window to the murky world of black holes," said Ballantyne, an assistant professor in the School of Physics. "The high-energy X-ray technology will allow us to see black holes that are buried deep inside their galaxies, hidden behind thick and gas. The goal is to unmask these black holes, study their , and figure out how the black holes affect and evolution."

Ballantyne has worked on the project, which is overseen by Fiona Harrison, a professor at the California Institute of Technology, since 2007. He and his peers have plotted three areas in the sky to survey, the largest of which spans approximately five full moons. Together, the surveys will uncover about 500 black holes, some of which have never been detected by any other telescope.

Seeing more means learning more, according to Ballantyne. He compares the study of black holes with learning about mankind.

"If you knew nothing about humans and looked at one person, you would quickly discover that we have two eyes, a nose and a mouth," said Ballantyne. "But the deeper knowledge – traits such as aging, cultures – is only discovered by looking at a wide range of people. The more we discover and study, the more we will understand about their roles in the cosmos."

NuSTAR is the first telescope capable of focusing high-energy X-rays. It will also map supernova explosions and microflares on the surface of the sun. It is the first American high-energy telescope launched since 2008 and the last one for the foreseeable future. There are no other planned projects.

NuSTAR will lift off aboard an airplane in the South Pacific. The plane will then launch a Pegasus rocket, which will carry the telescope into orbit. Images and data should be available for Ballantyne and his colleagues about a month after liftoff. Selected images and science stories will be made available for the public throughout the mission.

Explore further: Far from home: Wayward cluster is both tiny and distant

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

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 ...

NASA Approves X-ray Space Mission

Sep 07, 2009

NASA recently confirmed that the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, mission will launch in August 2011.

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.

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 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 ...

Recommended for you

Far from home: Wayward cluster is both tiny and distant

17 hours ago

Like the lost little puppy that wanders too far from home, astronomers have found an unusually small and distant group of stars that seems oddly out of place. The cluster, made of only a handful of stars, ...

An old-looking galaxy in a young universe

Mar 02, 2015

A team of astronomers, led by Darach Watson, from the University of Copenhagen used the Very Large Telescope's X-shooter instrument along with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) to observe ...

Giant methane storms on Uranus

Mar 02, 2015

Most of the times we have looked at Uranus, it has seemed to be a relatively calm place. Well, yes its atmosphere is the coldest place in the solar system. But, when we picture the seventh planet in our ...

Where do stars form in merging galaxies?

Mar 02, 2015

Collisions between galaxies, and even less dramatic gravitational encounters between them, are recognized as triggering star formation. Observations of luminous galaxies, powered by starbursts, are consistent ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.