Happy 15 years Chandra!!
Fifteen years ago, NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory was launched into space on board the Space Shuttle Columbia. Deployed on July 23, 1999, Chandra has changed our understanding of the Universe through unprecedented X-ray images.
Chandra joins the ranks of NASA’s current “Great Observatories” along side the Hubble Space Telescope and the Spitzer Space Telescope. Chandra is specifically engineered to collect X-ray emissions from hot, energetic regions of our Universe. Thanks to its high sensitivity and resolution, Chandra is able to observe objects like close planets and comets to the most distant quasars. It has provided us with stunning images of supernova remnants, regions around supermassive black holes (including the one at the heart of our Milky Way) and has led to the discovery of new black holes all across the cosmos.
In addition, Chandra has advanced our knowledge of dark matter, by highlighting the separation of dark matter from normal matter in various galaxy clusters.
In honor of Chandra’s 15 years of hard work, four new images have been released. These are not new objects but new images showing them in greater detail. Stay tuned for future articles on each of these amazing images. You can see all four represented above. Starting at the top left and going clockwise we can see the Crab Nebula, then G292.0+1.8, then Tycho and at the bottom we have 3C58. These four supernova remnants are examples of what remains when a star dies. The resulting remnants are very hot and energetic, thus they glow very brightly in X-ray light, allowing them to be seen by Chandra.
"Chandra changed the way we do astronomy. It showed that precision observation of the X-rays from cosmic sources is critical to understanding what is going on," said Paul Hertz, NASA’s Astrophysics Division director in Washington. "We’re fortunate we’ve had 15 years – so far – to use Chandra to advance our understanding of stars, galaxies, black holes, dark energy, and the origin of the elements necessary for life."
Chandra’s name was selected as a result of a global contest. Participants submitted names along with an essay explaining why the name should be chosen. The contest winners were determined by the essays as many people submitted the same names. Named for the late Indian-American Nobel laureate, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, the name Chandra means “moon” or “luminous” in sanskrit - quite fitting for the telescope.
In order to provide us with the images we see, Chandra orbits the Earth at an altitude of 86,500 mi (139,00 km). This allows for the telescope to make long observations without having to worry about Earth’s shadow. Chandra was the largest satellite ever launched by the shuttle.
"We are thrilled at how well Chandra continues to perform," said Belinda Wilkes, director of the Chandra X-ray Center (CXC) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "The science and operations teams work very hard to ensure that Chandra delivers its astounding results, just as it has for the past decade and a half. We are looking forward to more ground-breaking science over the next decade and beyond."
In the beginning stages of development, Chandra was referred to as the Advanced X-ray Astrophysics Facility (AXAF) and as the very first telescope proposed to NASA back in 1976. After fifteen years of stunning imagery, what do we have to look forward to? Can Chandra help us discover new objects in the universe? Most likely Chandra will allow us to look deeper into objects, like the Crab Nebula, and discover more about supernova remnants. While Chandra may not necessarily help us discover new objects, it will be able to increase our understanding of current objects by leaps and bounds. We look forward to 15 more years!
"Chandra continues to be one of the most successful missions that NASA has ever flown as measured against any metric – cost, schedule, technical success and, most of all, scientific discoveries," said Martin Weisskopf, Chandra Project Scientist at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. "It has been a privilege to work on developing and maintaining this scientific powerhouse, and we look forward to many years to come."
NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the Chandra program for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, controls Chandra’s science and flight operations.
Image & Source Credit: NASA/Chandra