Friday, June 22, 2012

Black Hole: Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR)

NASA's newest space telescope — a black hole-hunting observatory — unfolded a giant mast in orbit Thursday (June 21), one of the final steps before it can begin peering deep into the universe.

The $165 million Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) is an X-ray observatory designed to study some of the most energetic and mysterious places in the universe through X-ray light. In order to focus these very short-wavelength, high-energy light rays, the telescope must separate its light-gathering optics from a focal point a distance away.

That's where NuSTAR's mast comes in. The 33-foot (10-meter) boom made of stackable cubes formed by carbon fiber rods serves to distance the telescope's two X-ray optics from the focal point where its camera is placed.

NuSTAR will point its X-ray eyes at the nearby black hole Cygnus X-1, which is in our own galaxy. These observations should allow mission controllers to test the telescope's focus, and also gather better pictures of Cygnus X-1 than have been available before in this energy range.

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