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article imageNASA's NuSTAR mission lifts off to seek out black holes

By Anne Sewell     Jun 14, 2012 in Science
Pasadena - NASA has launched an X-ray space telescope to study black holes and other hard-to-see objects in our galaxy in more detail.
The U.S. space agency launched Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) over the central Pacific ocean on Wednesday.
Following the launch, the mission control center received a signal from the spacecraft as it reached orbit 350 miles (563kms) above earth.
Paul Hertz, NASA's Astrophysics Division Director announced, "We have been eagerly awaiting the launch of this novel X-ray observatory. With its unprecedented spatial and spectral resolution to the previously poorly explored hard X-ray region of the electromagnetic spectrum, NuSTAR will open a new window on the universe and will provide complementary data to NASA's larger missions, including Fermi, Chandra, Hubble and Spitzer."
The telescope was boosted into orbit by a Pegasus rocket, released from a carrier aircraft which took off from a Pacific island between Hawaii and Australia. After free-falling for several seconds, the rocket ignited its engines and started the climb. Shortly afterwards, the telescope separated from the rocket and then unfurled its solar panels, while circling 350 miles above the Earth.
This option was chosen by NASA as it was cheaper than using a land-based launch-pad.
NuSTAR will explore black holes and other hard-to-see phenomenon in the Milky Way and other galaxies. It focuses high-energy X-rays to see through gas and dust in search of super-massive black holes in the center of galaxies. It will also seek out remnants of exploded stars and other celestial objects.
By exploring never-before-seen parts of the universe, scientists hope to better understand how galaxies form and evolve.
The cost of the mission is US$170 million.
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