NASA Launches NuStar Observatory to Find Elusive Black Holes

Posted on June 13, 2012

NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) launched this morning. Its mission is to unveil secrets of buried black holes and other exotic objects. NuStar 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. NuSTAR has two identical optics modules in order to increase sensitivity. An artist's interpretation of NuSTAR is pictured above.

Paul Hertz, NASA's Astrophysics Division Director, says, "We all eagerly await the launch of this novel X-ray observatory. 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."

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 launched from the Kwajalein Atoll in the central Pacific Ocean. The rocket dropped around 9 am PDT, 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.

Yunjin Kim, the mission's project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif, says, "NuSTAR spread its solar panels to charge the spacecraft battery and then reported back to Earth of its good health. We are checking out the spacecraft now and are excited to tune into the high-energy X-ray sky."

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