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NASA launches black hole hunting telescope


A bevy of black holes and neutron stars shine as bright, point-like sources against bubbles of million degree gas in this false-color X-ray image from the orbiting Chandra Observatory released August 17, 2000. NASA launched a new, powerful telescope called NuSTAR on June 13, 2012, which will search for black holes.



NASA launched its newest space telescope on Wednesday with a new mission: to hunt for black holes in the universe.

According to MSNBC, the $165 million telescope, called Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR), will search for black holes by scanning X-ray light at higher energies than any spacecraft before it.

Fiona Harrison, a professor at the California Institute of Technology and the principal investigator on NuSTAR said it would be the "first telescope to focus high energy X-rays. As such it will make images that are 10 times crisper and 100 times more sensitive than any telescope that has operated in this region of the spectrum," according to Agence France Presse.

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NASA chose to have the telescope launched from a plane, saying in a statement: "Plane-assisted launches are less expensive than those that take place from the ground. Less fuel is needed to boost cargo away from the pull of Earth's gravity," according to AFP.

The telescope was carried by a Pegasus air-launched rocket attached to an Orbital Science Corporation L-1011 Stargazer aircraft, said the AFP.

It took off from the Kwajalein Atoll in the South Pacific at noon today. CNN reported that the rocket was dropped from the plane and ignited and then propelled the telescope.

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The rocket's first motor burned for 70 seconds before dropping away and allowing the second-stage motor to start burning. Around 13 minutes after being released from the plane, the telescope array separated from the rocket's third stage and entered into orbit, said CNN.

Harrison said that though we initially though black holes were rare and exotic, "Today we know that every massive galaxy, like our Milky Way, has a massive black hole at its heart," according to AFP.