Photo courtesy of NASA.
NASA's newest satellite, a $170-million telescope with the power to observe the high-energy X-ray happenings of the cosmos, entered orbit Wednesday after a successful launch from a Pacific island.
National Geographic explains that the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, nicknamed NuStar, will capture images of high energy x-rays with ten times better resolution and a hundred times more sensitivity than current technology already up there. Scientists expect the device will allow them to peer into the hearts of black holes, to look at galaxies through clouds of space debris like dust and gas, and to study the ancient remnants of exploded stars.
Scientists hope that their newest gadget will reveal what until now has been a hidden universe, allowing them to study some of the more exotic phenomena of outer space. "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 California Institute of Technology told the Associated Press.
NASA opted for an air-launch over the Pacific Ocean in an attempt to keep the price tag down on the project that was supposed to launch in March. By this method, the refrigerator-sized satellite was perched atop a Pegasus XL rocket which was then strapped to the bottom of a carrier aircraft. At 40,000 feet, the plane released the rocket, which fell for five seconds before the engines fired up. Pegasus then carried NuStar out of the atmosphere, and deposited it into an equatorial orbit, where the satellite will open its solar panels, extend its 33-foot-long mast, and start collecting data within about a month.
The launch comes a week after NASA killed a 2014 satellite project similar to NuStar due to budget restraints. At this point, the $8 billion James Webb Space Telescope slated to launch in 2018, which is seen by many as the successor to the Hubble Telescope, is still on track.