X-ray astronomy not dead yet : NuSTAR

The news earlier this week was that ESO announced the ELT was DEFINITELY MAYBE going ahead. There is just this kinda small money detail thing. Anyway, all systems standby-to-go ! When they give us the money ! Actually, it does exude a feeling of almost unstoppable momentum. And furthermore no more major re-designs seem likely. We know what we will build. SKA has also picked up momentum of course. Phase I is a done deal and looks dead good already, but Phase II is still an opium dream really. Anyhoo. With all these exciting but expensive things looming, you can see why STFC needed to close down those tinnsy-winnsy 4m telescopes. Need that headroom !

PeterC wrote a post linking this to the earlier Athena shenanigans : OIR and X-ray astronomy seem to be hitting the all-or-nothing funding wall at the same time. Meanwhile old chum Martin is doing his Cassandra thing in Nature.  But But But the lovely news from yesterday is that NuSTAR had a successful launch. You could read the Beeb version here, watch the NASA launch movie here, or get the real goods from the SPIE paper here. (Seven down is the one to read).  NuStAR is  a hard X-ray mission which cost only $170M. The picture below (taken from the NuSTAR web site) does the sell :

Effective area of NuSTAR mirrors versus energy. Jeez, thats good.

At hard X-ray energies it is WAY more sensitive than XMM or Chandra. On the other hand, the resolution is fairly crummy – 10 arcsec FWHM. So you can see that it won’t be a general purpose X-ray observatory, but it will do some areas of science fantastically well. I would say the most exciting mission of recent times was WISE, and that wasn’t billions either. So it can be done.

Its also technologically cute, with a 10m extendable boom, a multi-layer coating mirror to get reflectivity at slightly better than the otherwise tiny grazing incidence angles, and Cadmium Zinc thingy detectors. And all the data will be public.

So good luck to NuSTAR … and especially with the boom opening !


9 Responses to X-ray astronomy not dead yet : NuSTAR

  1. Alex M says:

    Great news eh?! Let’s get those 44Ti lines from CC supernovae!

  2. MikeW says:

    Andy, a couple of detailed points to clarify

    – NuSTAR is the first genuine imaging mission for cosmic hard X-rays. Comparing with Chandra and XMM is not that helpful (not your fault I know, their figure) as neither have much area above 10 keV (essentially none for Chandra). The real comparison should be with those missions operating above 20 keV, eg. with Integral IBIS or Swift BAT where the NuSTAR sensitivity is, from memory, about 100 times better (!).

    – the 10 arcsec FWHM for NuSTAR imaging is a little misleading. The ~50 arcsec HPD is probably a better measure of the imaging performance. Still a massive step forward.

    I read the boom extends after 7 days. As you say, fingers crossed for the success of this neat project.

  3. MikeW says:

    I’d also add that I think the “funding wall” idea, although a tidy way of expressing the problem, oversimplifies. One can do great X-ray astronomy within the funding wall; the next big mission does not have to cost 5 billion dollars, albeit space remains very expensive (as Martin’s article comments).

  4. David Alexander says:

    Mike is right – NuSTAR should be ~100x more sensitive than previous >10 keV observatories due to its revolutionary optics. Yes the mast extends after 7 days and the first science observations should start after ~1 month. The relevant spatial resolution performance depends on what you are trying to determine – the core is tight (~10 arc sec FWHM: useful for source detection) but there are broad wings that contain a lot of the flux (but broad here is relative as they are still ~10x tighter than previous >10 keV observatories). The NuSTAR observations for the first 2 years are defined by the science team but the data goes into the archive shortly after they are taken. If NuSTAR gets extended beyond 2 years then there may well be a GO programme.

  5. telescoper says:

    I don’t think you should tempt fate by using the word “boom” in connection with a space mission!

  6. MikeW says:

    Good news from NuSTAR – the mast has been successfully deployed.

  7. andyxl says:

    Indeedy. Looking forward to some grrovy AGN results !

  8. I agree telescoper, some great information here guys I am learning more and more about astronomy. Many Thanks for your help!

  9. mri says:

    any new updates on this?

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