X-ray telescope rockets through test

2019-03-06 01:10:04

By Will Knight Astronomers have successfully tested a sensitive new X-ray telescope by blasting it into the sky aboard a rocket. Despite having only a brief, five-minute viewing window, it returned useful scientific data. The J-PEX spectrograph was launched from White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico on 21 February 2001 aboard a NASA sounding rocket. The testing method cost about ten times less than putting an instrument aboard an orbiting satellite. But it has drawbacks. First is the short observation time of the target, a white dwarf known as G191-B2B. The vibration of the rocket also had to be accounted for by researchers at the University of Leicester. Despite these difficulties, the J-PEX telescope captured the X-ray spectrum in unprecedented detail. “J-PEX is the most sensitive X-ray instrument yet launched into space and its first flight was a great success,” says Martin Barstow of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Leicester, who interpreted the telescope’s findings. “We discovered what we were looking for – evidence of ionised helium in the spectrum of the white dwarf star.” The researchers hope that the mission’s success will help secure NASA funding from NASA for two more test flights. The ultimate goal is to put an array of spectrometers into orbit aboard a satellite. This would make it possible to observe many more stars, but would also require around $25m and four years of preparation. Nevertheless, the maiden voyage is a boost for this area of research. “J-PEX has brought us to a new threshold in X-ray and extreme ultra violet astronomy, which promises spectroscopic observations of unparalleled resolution and sensitivity.” says Ray Cruddance of the US Naval Research Laboratory. The J-PEX telescope was constructed by the University of Leicester, the US Naval Research Laboratory,