NASA has successfully launched its Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (aka NuSTAR). This will be the first telescope to focus high-energy X-rays, operating at energies beyond the Chandra and XMM-Newton observatories. It will produce images that are 10 times crisper and over 100 times more sensitive than any previous X-ray telescope, using a row of 133 mirrors stacked like Russian dolls in concentric shells.
During its two-year primary mission phase, NuSTAR will take a census of black holes in the Milky Way, peering through dense clouds of dust and gas to view the core region together with more distant galaxies. It will study material in young supernova remnants, to understand how stars explode and elements are created. It will also determine what powers the relativistic jets of particles from the most extreme active galaxies hosting supermassive black holes.
The mission's unique telescope design includes a 33-foot (10-metre) mast, which was folded up in a small canister during launch. Next week, engineers will extend the mast, enabling the telescope to focus properly. About 23 days later, science operations are scheduled to begin.