Chandra X-ray Observatory

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Chandra X-ray Observatory
Spacecraft labeled med.jpg
Annotated illustration of CXO
General information
NSSDC ID 1999-040B
Organization NASA, SAO, CXC
Major contractors TRW, Northrop Grumman
Launch date 23 July 1999
Launch site Kennedy Space Center LC-39B, Florida, U.S.
Launch vehicle Space Shuttle Columbia (STS-93)
Mission length planned: 5 years[1]
elapsed: 15 years, 1 month and 29 days
Mass 4,790 kg (10,560 lb)
Orbit height apogee 133,000 km (83,000 mi)
perigee 16,000 km (9,900 mi)
Orbit period 64.2 hours
Wavelength X-ray (0.1 - 10 keV)
Diameter 1.2 m (3.9 ft)
Collecting area 0.04 m2 (0.43 sq ft) at 1 keV
Focal length 10 m (33 ft)
Instruments
Website chandra.harvard.edu

The Chandra X-ray Observatory (CXO), previously known as the Advanced X-ray Astrophysics Facility (AXAF), is a space telescope launched on STS-93 by NASA on July 23, 1999. Chandra is sensitive to X-ray sources 100 times fainter than any previous X-ray telescope, enabled by the high angular resolution of its mirrors. Since the Earth's atmosphere absorbs the vast majority of X-rays, they are not detectable from Earth-based telescopes; therefore space-based telescopes are required to make these observations. Chandra is an Earth satellite in a 64-hour orbit, and its mission is ongoing as of 2014.

Chandra is one of the Great Observatories, along with the Hubble Space Telescope, Compton Gamma Ray Observatory (1991–2000), and the Spitzer Space Telescope. Chandra has been described as being as revolutionary to astronomy as Galileo's first telescope.[2] The telescope is named after Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar.[3]

History[edit]

In 1976 the Chandra X-ray Observatory (called AXAF at the time) was proposed to NASA by Riccardo Giacconi and Harvey Tananbaum. Preliminary work began the following year at Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO). In the meantime, in 1978, NASA launched the first imaging X-ray telescope, Einstein (HEAO-2), into orbit. Work continued on the AXAF project throughout the 1980s and 1990s. In 1992, to reduce costs, the spacecraft was redesigned. Four of the twelve planned mirrors were eliminated, as were two of the six scientific instruments. AXAF's planned orbit was changed to an elliptical one, reaching one third of the way to the Moon's at its farthest point. This eliminated the possibility of improvement or repair by the space shuttle but put the observatory above the Earth's radiation belts for most of its orbit. AXAF was assembled and tested by TRW (now Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems) in Redondo Beach, California.

AXAF was renamed Chandra as part of a contest held by NASA in 1998, which drew more than 6,000 submissions worldwide.[4] The contest winners, Jatila van der Veen and Tyrel Johnson (then a high school teacher and high school student, respectively), suggested the name in honor of Nobel Prize–winning Indian-American astrophysicist Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar. He is known for his work in determining the maximum mass of white dwarf stars, leading to greater understanding of high energy astronomical phenomena such as neutron stars and black holes.[3]

Originally scheduled to be launched in December 1998,[4] the spacecraft was delayed several months, eventually being launched in July 1999 by Space Shuttle Columbia during STS-93. At 22,753 kilograms (50,162 lb), it was the heaviest payload ever launched by the shuttle, a consequence of the two-stage Inertial Upper Stage booster rocket system needed to transport the spacecraft to its high orbit.

Crew of STS-93 with a scale model
STS-93 launches in 1999

Chandra has been returning data since the month after it launched. It is operated by the SAO at the Chandra X-ray Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with assistance from MIT and Northrop Grumman Space Technology. The ACIS CCDs suffered particle damage during early radiation belt passages. To prevent further damage, the instrument is now removed from the telescope's focal plane during passages.

Although Chandra was initially given an expected lifetime of 5 years, on 4 September 2001 NASA extended its lifetime to 10 years "based on the observatory's outstanding results."[5] Physically Chandra could last much longer. A study performed at the Chandra X-ray Center indicated that the observatory could last at least 15 years.[6] In July 2008, the International X-ray Observatory, a joint project between ESA, NASA and JAXA, was proposed as the next major X-ray observatory but was later cancelled.[7] ESA later resurrected the project as the Advanced Telescope for High Energy Astrophysics (ATHENA+) with a proposed launch in 2028.[8]

Discoveries[edit]

Tycho Supernova remnant in x-ray light
SN 2006gy (upper right) and its parent galaxy NGC 1260 (lower left) in false color as observed through the Chandra X-Ray Observatory.
In this image of PSR B1509-58, the lowest energy X-rays that Chandra detects are red, the medium range is green, and the most energetic ones are colored blue.
X-rays from Jupiter.

The data gathered by Chandra has greatly advanced the field of X-ray astronomy.

Technical description[edit]

Chandra (AXAF) in the Shuttle bay
CXO orbit as of January 7, 2014.

Unlike optical telescopes which possess simple aluminized parabolic surfaces (mirrors), X-ray telescopes generally use a Wolter telescope consisting of nested cylindrical paraboloid and hyperboloid surfaces coated with iridium or gold. X-ray photons would be absorbed by normal mirror surfaces, so mirrors with a low grazing angle are necessary to reflect them. Chandra uses four pairs of nested mirrors, together with their support structure, called the High Resolution Mirror Assembly (HRMA); the mirror substrate is 2 cm-thick glass, with the reflecting surface a 33 nm iridium coating, and the diameters are 65 cm, 87 cm, 99 cm and 123 cm.[15] The thick substrate and particularly careful polishing allowed a very precise optical surface, which is responsible for Chandra's unmatched resolution: between 80% and 95% of the incoming X-ray energy is focused into a one-arcsecond circle. However, the thickness of the substrates limit the proportion of the aperture which is filled, leading to the low collecting area compared to XMM-Newton.

Chandra's highly elliptical orbit allows it to observe continuously for up to 55 hours of its 65 hour orbital period. At its furthest orbital point from earth, Chandra is one of the most distant earth-orbiting satellites. This orbit takes it beyond the geostationary satellites and beyond the outer Van Allen belt.[16]

With an angular resolution of 0.5 arcsecond (2.4 µrad), Chandra possesses a resolution over 1000 times better than that of the first orbiting X-ray telescope.

Instruments[edit]

M31 Core in X-rays

The Science Instrument Module (SIM) holds the two focal plane instruments, the AXAF CCD Imaging Spectrometer (ACIS) and the High Resolution Camera (HRC), moving whichever is called for into position during an observation.

ACIS consists of 10 CCD chips and provides images as well as spectral information of the object observed. It operates in the range of 0.2–10 keV. HRC has two micro-channel plate components and images over the range of 0.1–10 keV. It also has a time resolution of 16 microseconds. Both of these instruments can be used on their own or in conjunction with one of the observatory's two transmission gratings.

The transmission gratings, which swing into the optical path behind the mirrors, provide Chandra with high resolution spectroscopy. The High Energy Transmission Grating Spectrometer (HETGS) works over 0.4–10 keV and has a spectral resolution of 60–1000. The Low Energy Transmission Grating Spectrometer (LETGS) has a range of 0.09–3 keV and a resolution of 40–2000.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Chandra X-ray Observatory Quick Facts". NASA.gov. August 1999. FS-1999-09-111-MSFC. 
  2. ^ "The Extraordinary Universe with Chandra". Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. 
  3. ^ a b "And the co-winners are...". Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. 1998. Retrieved January 12, 2014. 
  4. ^ a b Tucker, Wallace (October 31, 2013). "Tyrel Johnson & Jatila van der Veen - Winners of the Chandra-Naming Contest - Where Are They Now?". Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Retrieved January 12, 2014. 
  5. ^ "Chandra's Mission Extended to 2009". Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. September 28, 2001. 
  6. ^ Schwartz, Daniel A. (August 2004). "The Development and Scientific Impact of the Chandra X-Ray Observatory". International Journal of Modern Physics D 13 (7): 1239–1248. arXiv:astro-ph/0402275. Bibcode:2004IJMPD..13.1239S. doi:10.1142/S0218271804005377. 
  7. ^ "International X-ray Observatory". NASA.gov. 
  8. ^ Howell, Elizabeth (November 1, 2013). "X-ray Space Telescope of the Future Could Launch in 2028". Space.com. Retrieved January 1, 2014. 
  9. ^ "Students Using NASA and NSF Data Make Stellar Discovery; Win Science Team Competition" (Press release). NASA. December 12, 2000. Release 00-195. Retrieved April 15, 2013. 
  10. ^ Roy, Steve; Watzke, Megan (October 2006). "Chandra Reviews Black Hole Musical: Epic But Off-Key" (Press release). Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. 
  11. ^ Madejski, Greg (2005). "Recent and Future Observations in the X-ray and Gamma-ray Bands: Chandra, Suzaku, GLAST, and NuSTAR". Astrophysical Sources of High Energy Particles and Radiation. June 20-24, 2005. Torun, Poland. AIP Conference Proceedings 801. p. 21. arXiv:astro-ph/0512012. doi:10.1063/1.2141828. 
  12. ^ "Puzzling X-rays from Jupiter". NASA.gov. March 7, 2002. 
  13. ^ Harrington, J. D.; Anderson, Janet; Edmonds, Peter (September 24, 2012). "NASA's Chandra Shows Milky Way is Surrounded by Halo of Hot Gas". NASA.gov. 
  14. ^ "M60-UCD1: An Ultra-Compact Dwarf Galaxy". NASA.gov. September 24, 2013. 
  15. ^ Gaetz, T. J.; Jerius, Diab (January 28, 2005). "The HRMA User's Guide". Chandra X-ray Center. Archived from the original on February 10, 2006. 
  16. ^ Gott, J. Richard; Juric, Mario (2006). "Logarithmic Map of the Universe". Princeton University. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]