Two Years of NuSTAR

Artist's concept of NuSTAR on orbit. NuSTAR has a 10-m (30') mast that deploys after launch to separate the optics modules (right) from the detectors in the focal plane (left). Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Artist’s concept of NuSTAR on orbit. NuSTAR has a 10-m (30′) mast that deploys after launch to separate the optics modules (right) from the detectors in the focal plane (left). Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) has completed its 2-year-long primary mission, and has now been extended for an additional two years.

“It’s hard to believe it’s been two years since NuSTAR launched,” said Fiona Harrison, the mission’s principal investigator, in a press release from NASA JPL. “We achieved all the mission science objectives and made some amazing discoveries I never would have predicted two years ago.”

NuSTAR is an orbiting telescope that launched in 2012 to study light in the high energy X-ray region of the electromagnetic spectrum. The mission’s primary goals (NuSTAR mission page):

  • Take a census of collapsed stars and black holes of different sizes by surveying regions surrounding the center of own Milky Way Galaxy and performing deep observations of the extragalactic sky.
  • Map recently-synthesized material in young supernova remnants to understand how stars explode and how elements are created.
  • Understand what powers relativistic jets of particles from the most extreme active galaxies hosting supermassive black holes.

 

A NASA Small Explorer (SMEX) mission, NuSTAR launched on June 13, 2012. Credit: NASA/CalTech

A NASA Small Explorer (SMEX) mission, NuSTAR launched on June 13, 2012. Credit: NASA/CalTech

NuSTAR is not an astrobiology mission, but some of its findings could be useful for astrobiologists studying life’s potential in the Universe.

Observing highly energetic objects like black holes at the center of our galaxy can help scientists understand the fundamental nature of the Milky Way. These studies provide useful information about the greater space environment in which our solar system formed and evolved; and could ultimately provide clues about the conditions that led to habitability on Earth, and locations in which to search for habitable worlds beyond our own system.

NuSTAR imaged the radioactive "guts" of a supernova remnant, the leftover remains of a star that exploded. Credit: NASA/CalTech

NuSTAR imaged the radioactive “guts” of a supernova remnant, the leftover remains of a star that exploded. Credit: NASA/CalTech

In addition, a better understanding of the elements created by exploding stars could be useful in determining the inventory of molecules in space that play a role in the origins of life. Scientists working on NuSTAR are collecting data that could serve as a starting point for future astrobiology studies focused on how specific molecules in the space environment are formed.

With the extension of the NuSTAR mission, astronomers who are not part of the NuSTAR team will now be invited to submit proposals to use the telescope for observations.

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