- Press Release
- August 11, 2022
One year later: Chandra ‘changes way we look at the universe’
NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory is marking its first year in orbit
with an impressive list of astronomy “firsts.”
Through Chandra’s images, humans witnessed for the first time the
full impact of a blast wave from an exploding star, a flare from a brown
dwarf – or failed – star, and a small galaxy in the process of being
cannibalized by a larger galaxy.
“Our goal is to identify never-before-seen phenomena, whether it’s
new or millions of years old. All this leads to a better understanding of
our universe, ” said Martin Weisskopf, chief project scientist for the
Chandra program. “Indeed, Chandra has changed the way we look at the
Chandra was launched in July 1999 and recorded its first images in
mid-August 1999. After only two months in space, the observatory revealed a
brilliant ring around the heart of the Crab Pulsar in the Crab Nebula – the
remains of a stellar explosion – providing clues about how the nebula is
energized by a pulsing neutron, or collapsed, star.
Chandra also detected a faint X-ray source in the Milky Way galaxy,
which may be the long-sought X-ray emission from the known massive black
hole at the center. A black hole is a region of space with so much mass
concentrated in it there is no way for a nearby object – even light – to
escape its gravitational pull.
The observatory captured an image that revealed gas funneling into a
supermassive black hole in the heart of the Andromeda galaxy is much cooler
than expected. Andromeda is the Milky Way’s nearest galaxy neighbor at 2
million light years away.
Recently, Chandra discovered the first X-ray flare ever seen from a
“Chandra is teaching us to expect the unexpected about all sorts of
objects ranging from comets in our solar system and relatively nearby brown
dwarfs to distant black holes billions of light years away,” said Harvey
Tananbaum, director of the Chandra X-ray Center in Cambridge, Mass.
Perhaps one of Chandra’s greatest contributions to X-ray astronomy
to date is the resolution of the X-ray background – a glow throughout the
universe whose source or sources are unknown. Astronomers are now
pinpointing the various sources of the X-ray glow because Chandra – compared
to previous X-ray telescopes – has eight-times greater resolution and is
able to detect sources more than 20-times fainter.
Chandra’s “firsts” began before the telescope left Earth. “The
Chandra team had to develop technologies and processes never tried before,”
said Tony Lavoie, Chandra program manager at Marshall. “One example is that
we built and validated a measurement system to make sure the huge
cylindrical mirrors of the telescope were ground correctly and polished to
the right shape.”
The polishing effort resulted in an ultra-smooth surface for all
eight of Chandra’s mirrors. As an analogy, if the state of Colorado were as
smooth as the surface of Chandra’s mirrors, Pike’s Peak would be less than
an inch tall. As a result, Chandra has such precision resolution, it’s like
someone reading the letters of a stop sign 12 miles away.
“Chandra has experienced a great first year of discovery and we
look forward to many more tantalizing science results as the mission
continues,” said Alan Bunner, program director, Structure and Evolution of
the Universe at NASA Headquarters.
NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center manages the Chandra program for
the Office of Space Science, NASA Headquarters, Washington, D.C. TRW Space
and Electronics Group, Redondo Beach, Calif., is the prime contractor.
Using glass purchased from Schott Glaswerke, Mainz, Germany, the telescope’s
mirrors were built by Raytheon Optical Systems Inc., Danbury, Conn., coated
by Optical Coating Laboratory, Inc., Santa Rosa, Calif., and assembled and
inserted into the telescope portion of Chandra by Eastman Kodak Co.,
The scientific instruments were supplied by collaborations led by
Pennsylvania State University, University Park; Smithsonian Astrophysical
Observatory, Cambridge, Mass.; Massachusetts Institute of Technology,
Cambridge, Mass.; and the Space Research Organization Netherlands, Utrecht.
The Smithsonian’s Chandra X-ray Center controls science and
operations from Cambridge, Mass. – working with astronomers around the globe
to record the activities of the universe.
Chandra X-ray Observatory Center
Chandra News Web site
Chandra X-ray Center