NuSTAR Rides Pegasus to Orbit

NuSTAR
“Stargazer” L-1011 Aircraft with NuSTAR Prior to Take Off – T-105 minutes
Image Credit: NASA TV / UStream

NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) spacecraft is scheduled for launch this morning 13 June 2012, after being postponed this Spring. Launch is currently scheduled for 9:00 AM Phoenix time (16:00 UTC), with a window between 8:30 AM and 12:30 PM Phoenix time (15:30-19:30 UTC). Coverage and commentary will be broadcast online beginning 90 minutes before launch at http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/nustar/multimedia/index.html.

At 7:25 AM Phoenix time, we are 1 hour and 35 minutes from launch.

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NuSTAR X-RAY Observatory Set for Launch on Wednesday

NuSTAR
Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR)
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) spacecraft is scheduled for launch this coming Wednesday 13 June 2012, after being postponed this Spring. Launch is scheduled for a window between 8:30 AM and 12:30 PM Phoenix time (15:30-19:30 UTV). Coverage and commentary will be broadcast online beginning 90 minutes before launch at http://www.nasa.gov/nustar.

The launch vehicle is an Orbital Sciences Pegasus XL rocket. The Pegasus will be launched from a Lockheed L-1011, named “Stargazer” (below), flying at 40,000 feet. The aircraft has already moved from Vandenberg Air Force base to the Reagan Test Site on the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. The “Stargazer”, Pegasus and NuSTAR will take off and fly to 40,000 feet. Five seconds after drop the Pegasus will ignite and put NuSTAR into a low Earth orbit

Stargazer
Stargazer with Pegasus XL Landing on the Kwajalein Atoll
Image Credit: Orbital Sciences

Check out the NASA Press Release about the NuSTAR mission.

The short summary:

  • First observatory to focus high energy X-rays
  • 10 times the resolution and 100 times the sensitivity of previous spacecraft
  • Coordinate observations with Chandra X-ray Observatory
  • Use new mirror and detector technology that was developed in NASA’s basic research program
  • Study large and small black holes, near and far
  • Focus high energy X-rays images (see below)
  • Use nested shell mirrors with 133 in each of two optic units
  • Use state of the art detectors and a 10-meter mast that connects the detectors to the nested mirrors

Focus
Illustration of the Focusing Power of the NuSTAR X-Ray Observatory
Image Credit: ESA / NASA / JPL-Caltech

Older observations on the upper left versus NuSTAR resolution in the lower right.

NuSTAR Launch Postponed

NuSTAR
Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR)
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

Testing of flight software with the new flight computer on the Pegasus XL rocket has pushed the launch of NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) spacecraft beyond the March 2012 window available at the Reagan Test Site on the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.

The next available window is within two or three months, at most, but negotiations are ongoing.

NuSTAR is designed to measure high-energy x-rays, which will allow for more detailed and sensitive study of black holes, high-speed energy jets, neutron stars and supernova remnants. NuSTAR uses advanced optics and detectors to observe some of the hottest, densest and most energetic objects in the universe.

Black Hole in the Milky Way Galaxy Set to Devour Gas Cloud


Video Credit: ESO / MPE / M. Schartmann / L. Calçada

A cloud of gas is being pulled closer to the supermassive black hole lurking in the center of our galaxy, 27,000 light-years away. This unprecedented discovery is being monitored by an international team of scientists using the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT). The cool cloud, composed mainly of hydrogen and helium, with a mass three-times that of Earth, has been picking up speed, and by 2013, astronomers will hopefully see some fireworks. By then, the first wisps of gas should be sucked into the black hole’s event horizon causing the black hole to flare brightly.

ALMA – Atacama Large Millimeter Array

Antennae
Colliding Antennae Galaxies. ALMA Left, Hubble Right.
Image Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO). Visible light image: ESO / Alberto Milani

Thousands of scientists from around the world have competed to be among the first few researchers to explore some of the darkest, coldest, furthest, and most hidden secrets of the cosmos with this new astronomical tool.

Thus opens the European Southern Observatory (ESO) announcement that the ALMA observatory is open for business.

At present, only 12 of the eventual 66 millimeter wavelength radio antennas were used to produce the image above, left. Moreover, the antennas were at most 125 meters apart. When the observatory is running at full capacity, some of the radio antennas will be 16 kilometers apart.

Tim de Zeeuw, Director General of ESO, noted that:

Even in this very early phase ALMA already outperforms all other submillimetre arrays. Reaching this milestone is a tribute to the impressive efforts of the many scientists and engineers in the ALMA partner regions around the world who made it possible.

Initially, 900 proposals were received for this new telescope, which is nine times the usual submission for a new telescope. Three of the proposed observations are detailed below:

David Wilner at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics was accepted and his team targets the star AU Microscopii, 33 light years away and only 1% the age of our Sun. The goal is to visualize the “birth ring” of planetismals around this young star. He is looking for clumps of material in the asteroid region that are markers of unseen planets.

Simon Casassus, from the University of Chile, is searching the debris disc of HD142527, a young star that is 400 light-years away. This distant solar systems contains dust, gas, and rocks surrounding the star. The hunt is on for frozen water and organic molecules. The disc contains enough material for a dozen Jupiters, but the most interesting feature is a very wide gap in which there may be one or more giant gas planets.

Heino Falcke, an astronomer at Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands is looking at Sagittarius A* and the black hole four million times the mass of our Sun. The goal is to image the gas clouds caught up in the immense gravitational pull of the black hole. Falcke notes that, “This will let us study this monster’s messy feeding habits. We think that some of the gas may be escaping its grip, at close to the speed of light.”

Below, we see some of the radio antennas deployed on the desert floor at Atacama.

Antennas
Antennas on the Atacama Desert.
Image Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/W. Garnier (ALMA)

The Black Hole in Centaurus A

Centaurus A
Jets Powered by the Black Hole in Centaurus A
Image Credit:
X-ray: NASA/CXC/CfA/R.Kraft et al.
Submillimeter: MPIfR/ESO/APEX/A.Weiss et al.
Optical: ESO/WFI

Centaurus A (NGC 5128), is a radio galaxy about 10-16 million light years from Earth. The image above is a newly released composite view of the powerful jets created by the galaxy’s massive black hole.

The image combined three sets of observations. X-rays (colored blue) from the Chandra X-ray Observatory, submillimeter data (colored orange) from the Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) telescope in Chile and visible light data from the Wide Field Imager on the Max-Planck/ESO 2.2 m telescope.

The jet in the upper left extends about 13,000 light years away from the black hole.