NuSTAR: NASA Successfully Launches New ‘Black Hole Hunter’

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

"Stargazer" L-1011 aircraft with Pegasus rocket just after release. Photo: OSC.

NASA on Wednesday launched its newest X-ray space telescope that is supposed to help scientists to learm more about black holes and other hard-to-see objects lurking in the Milky Way and other galaxies.

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

“With spacecraft separation confirmed, the Orbital Sciences’ Pegasus XL rocket has successfully launched NASA’s NuSTAR spacecraft into orbit,” NASA said after the launch.

NASA chose to air-launch the $170 million mission, instead of rocketing off from a launch pad, due to lower price.

“It’s a terrific day,” assistant launch director Tim Dunn said.

High-energy x-rays that are used on Earth for medical imaging and in airport security machines, are naturally produced by some of the most exotic objects in the universe.

NuSTAR will use these rays to capture images of black holes, neutron stars, and other cosmic bodies with a hundred times more sensitivity and ten times better resolution than previous spacecraft, explains National Geographic.

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

“We can view black holes and galaxies even if they’re enshrouded with dust and gas. If you had high-energy X-ray eyes and you stared up out of the galaxy, what you would see is the glow of all the massive black holes sprinkled throughout the cosmos,” chief scientist Fiona Harrison of the California Institute of Technology said this week.

“NuSTAR will help us find the most elusive and most energetic black holes, to help us understand the structure of the universe,” said Harrison.

While black holes are invisible, the region around them gives off telltale X-rays, writes The Huff Post.

NuStar will observe both previously known black holes and hidden ones. By zeroing in on never-before-seen parts of the universe, scientists expect to better understand how galaxies form and evolve.

“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.

NuStar will also seek for the remains of ancient supernovae, stars that exploded in past centuries.

“We’re going to look at the remnants of stars that exploded long ago and also be poised to respond quickly—within a day—to any new explosions like supernovae or gamma-ray bursts,” said Fiona Harrison.

Scientists expect to receive sharp images from the mission, which is many times more sensitive than previous space telescopes that have looked in this part of the electromagnetic spectrum.

With 133 nested mirrors in each of two optical units, NuSTAR 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.

“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 first data from the telescope is expected in about 30 days.

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