NuSTAR – The Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array

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The Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array is an Explorer mission that will allow astronomers to study the universe in high energy X-rays. Launched in June 2012, NuSTAR will be the first focusing hard X-ray telescope to orbit Earth and is expected to greatly exceed the performance of the largest ground-based observatories that have observed this region of the electromagnetic spectrum. NuSTAR will also complement astrophysics missions that explore the cosmos in other regions of the spectrum.

X-ray telescopes such as Chandra and XMM-Newton have observed the X-ray universe at low X-ray energy levels. By focusing higher energy X-rays, NuSTAR will start to answer several fundamental questions about the Universe including:

How are black holes distributed through the cosmos?

How were heavy elements forged in the explosions of massive stars?

What powers the most extreme active galaxies?

NuSTAR’s primary science objectives include:

Conducting a census for black holes on all scales using wide-field surveys of extragalactic fields and the Galactic center.

Mapping radioactive material in young supernova remnants; Studying the birth of the elements and to understand how stars explode.

Observing relativistic jets found in the most extreme active galaxies and to understand what powers giant cosmic accelerators.

NuSTAR will also study the origin of cosmic rays and the extreme physics around collapsed stars while responding to targets of opportunity including supernovae and gamma-ray bursts. NuSTAR will perform follow-up observations to discoveries made by Chandra and Spitzer, and will team with Fermi, making simultaneous observations which will greatly enhancing Fermi’s science return.

imageDuring a two-year primary mission phase, NuSTAR will map selected regions of the sky in order to:

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; and

understand what powers relativistic jets of particles from the most extreme active galaxies hosting supermassive black holes.

In addition to its core science program, NuSTAR will offer opportunities for a broad range of science investigations, ranging from probing cosmic ray origins to studying the extreme physics around collapsed stars to mapping microflares on the surface of the Sun. NuSTAR will also respond to targets of opportunity including supernovae and gamma-ray bursts.

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The NuSTAR instrument consists of two co-aligned grazing incidence telescopes with specially coated optics and newly developed detectors that extend sensitivity to higher energies as compared to previous missions such as Chandra and XMM. After launching into orbit on a small rocket, the NuSTAR telescope extends to achieve a 10-meter focal length. The observatory will provide a combination of sensitivity, spatial, and spectral resolution factors of 10 to 100 improved over previous missions that have operated at these X-ray energies.

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