Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR), NASA's new high energy X-ray detecting telescope was launched over the central Pacific Ocean Wednesday, marking the its mission to unearth secrets of the buried black holes and other alien objects.
Black holes are massive destructive objects with so much gravity within them that nothing, not even light, can escape them, thus making them invisible. However, an object can release high levels of radiation during the course of its destruction, and X-ray being one of the radiations, scientists believe that NuSTAR would help them reveal the mysteries behind black holes.
With its unprecedented spatial and spectral resolution to the previously poorly explored hard X-ray region of the electromagnetic spectrum, 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 use a unique set of eyes to see the highest energy X-ray light from the cosmos. The observatory can see through gas and dust to reveal black holes lurking in our Milky Way galaxy as well as those hidden in the hearts of faraway galaxies.
The observatory began its journey aboard the L-1011 Stargazer aircraft, operated by Orbital Sciences Corporation, Dulles, Va. NuSTAR was perched atop Orbital's Pegasus XL rocket, both of which were strapped to the belly of the Stargazer plane.
The plane left Kwajalein Atoll in the central Pacific Ocean one hour before the launch. At 12:00:35 p.m. EDT, the rocket dropped, free-falling for five seconds before firing its first-stage motor.
About 13 minutes after the rocket dropped, NuSTAR separated from the rocket, reaching its final low Earth orbit. The first signal from the spacecraft was received at 12:14 p.m. EDT through NASA's Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System.
The mission's unique telescope design includes a 33-foot (10-meter) mast, which was folded up in a small canister during launch. In about seven days, engineers will command the mast to extend, enabling the telescope to focus properly. About 23 days later, science operations are scheduled to begin.
Apart from black holes, NuSTAR will study different planetary objects and phenomenon in our universe, including the remains of exploded stars, compact and dead stars and clusters of galaxies.
In coordination with other telescopes such as NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory that detects lower-energy X-rays, NuSTAR's observations are expected to help solve fundamental cosmic mysteries. Additionally, NuSTAR also will study Sun's fiery atmosphere to look for clues as to how it is heated.