NuSTAR Produces First Test Images
June 29, 2012

NuSTAR Produces First Test Images

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

NASA said on Thursday that its Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) has taken its first test images of a high-energy X-ray universe.

The observatory is the first space telescope with the ability to focus high-energy X-rays, which are the same kind used by doctors and dentists, into images.

The mission will begin with exploring hidden black holes, specifically looking for fiery cinder balls left over from star explosions.

"Today, we obtained the first-ever focused images of the high-energy X-ray universe," Fiona Harrison, the mission's principal investigator at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, said. "It's like putting on a new pair of glasses and seeing aspects of the world around us clearly for the first time."

NuSTAR launched on June 13, and NASA deployed its telescope mirrors and detectors on June 21.

The NuSTAR team spent the rest of the time verifying the pointing and motion capabilities of the satellite, and fine-tuning the alignment of the mast.

NuSTAR's first images show Cygnus X-1, a black hole in our galaxy, siphoning gas off a giant-star companion. This black hole has been chosen as the first target because it is extremely bright in X-rays, which will allow the team to see where the telescope's focused X-rays are falling on the detectors.

During the next couple of weeks, NASA said the team will point NuSTAR at two other bright calibration targets, including an actively feeding black hole located 2 billion light-years away.

The next targets will be used to make small adjustments to place the X-ray light at the optimum spot on the detector, and to further calibrate and understand the telescope in preparation for future science observations.

"This is a really exciting time for the team," Daniel Stern, the NuSTAR project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said. "We can already see the power of NuSTAR to crack open the high-energy X-ray universe and reveal secrets that were impossible to get at before."

During its two-year prime mission, NuSTAR will focus on the most energetic objects in the universe, producing images with 100 times the sensitivity and 10 times the resolution of its predecessors operating at a similar wavelength range.

The orbiting observatory will take a census of black holes both inside and outside our Milky Way galaxy, and answer questions about how this celestial species behaves.

NuSTAR will also be probing farther into the dynamic regions around black holes, where matter is heated to temperatures as high as hundreds of millions of degrees.

Image 2 (below): NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, has taken its first snapshots of the highest-energy X-rays in the cosmos (lower right), producing images that are much crisper than previous high-energy telescopes (example in upper right). Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech