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NuSTAR releases first public data

Jenny Winder, News Writer
Aug 31, 2013, 7:00 UTC

Sen—NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, is giving the wider astronomical community a first look at its unique X-ray images of the cosmos.

"We are pleased to present the world with NuSTAR's first look at the sky in high-energy X-rays with a true focusing telescope," said Fiona Harrison, the mission's principal investigator at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).

The images, taken from July to August 2012, shortly after the spacecraft launched, comprise an assortment of extreme objects, including black holes. The more distant black holes are some of the most luminous objects in the universe, radiating X-rays as they consume their surrounding gas.

Sizzling Remains of a Dead Star. Supernova remnant Cassiopeia A, taken by NuSTAR. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/DSS

The new batch of data also includes a blazar, which is an active, supermassive black hole pointing a jet toward Earth. Systems known as X-ray binaries, in which a compact object such as a neutron star or black hole feeds off a stellar companion, are also in the data, along with the remnants of stellar blasts called supernovas.

"Astronomers can use these data to better understand the capabilities of NuSTAR and design future observing proposals. The first opportunity will be this fall, for joint observations with XMM-Newton," said Karl Forster of Caltech, who is leading the effort to package the data for the public.

The European Space Agency's XMM-Newton X-ray telescope, like NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, complements NuSTAR. While XMM-Newton and Chandra see lower-energy X-ray light, NuSTAR is the first telescope capable of focusing light in the high energy X-ray (6 - 79 keV) region of the electromagnetic spectrum, allowing for more detailed images than were possible before.

Astronomers can compare data sets from different missions using the High Energy Astrophysics Science Archive Research Center (HEASARC), which gives them a broader understanding of an object of interest. NuSTAR's high-energy observations help scientists bridge a gap that existed previously in X-ray astronomy, and will lead to new revelations about the bizarre and energetic side of our universe.

HEASARC also includes data obtained by NASA's high-energy astronomy missions observing in the extreme-ultraviolet, X-ray, and gamma-ray bands, as well as data from missions, balloons and ground-based facilities that have studied the relic cosmic microwave background.

Other NASA missions with data available via HEASARC include Chandra, Fermi, Swift, Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE), Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) and many more.

The NuSTAR data set only contains complete observations. Data will be released at a later date for those targets still being observed.