NuSTAR will be the very first high energy X ray telescope that can actually focus.That'll make it make images that are 10 times crisper, sharper than anything that's been made in this part of the electromagnetic spectrum before.
A whole new window on the high energy Universe -- observing objects glowing in radioactivity -- phenomena like exploding stars, from very massive black holes to black holes that are about the mass of the sun, to the atmosphere of our own sun.
For the same reason dentists and doctors use them to study what's going on inside you, NuSTAR will use these high-energy X-rays to study what's going on near super-massive black holes.
One of NuSTAR's main scientific goals is to get a full census of black holes in the universe. NuSTAR will be a black hole hunter in the sense that it can point up in the sky and find black holes even if they're in galaxies hidden behind shrouds of dust and gas.
X-ray telescopes look something like a whole bunch of coffee cans all nested inside one another. Each coffee can intercepts some part of the incoming X-ray beam and deflects it to focus it on this detector 10 meters away.
An amazing discovery of the last 20 years is that every galaxy -- like our own Milky Way -- has a massive black hole at its heart, and as material from this galaxy,dust and gas, falls onto this central black hole, it radiates and we can see that. So if we look at the sky in visible light, we see stars. If we look at the sky in X-rays we see black holes.
One of the measurements NuSTAR will make is how fast black holes are spinning. So, much like a roller skater or ice skater is spinning with her arms out and they bring their arms in and they start spinning faster and faster, material --as it falls in on a black hole -- starts spinning faster and faster as it gets closer into the black hole.
When two black holes merge, all of that rotation will end up in a single object, making it spin very fast. NuSTAR is going to measure how fast black holes are spinning, which gives us information about how the black holes formed and what role they play in the formation of galaxies.
I think for me the most exciting thing is to have this new window on the universe. It enables astrophysicists to study some of the most energetic phenomena in the universe: the hottest objects, regions where particles are moving very close to the speed of light behind screens of dust and gas.
Well, the big excitement is that we might see things that are unexpected. You know, Galileo looking up at Jupiter didn't expect to see moons orbiting around Jupiter. We're going to have to keep our eyes open to see things that we weren't expecting to see.
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology
Page Editor: Gary Daines