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NASA’s Black Hole Space Telescope Unfolds in Orbit

First Posted: Jun 22, 2012 06:16 AM EDT

NASA's new black hole hunting space telescope NuStar, unfolded a 33 foot mast in orbit on the Thursday.   This was the last procedure to be completed before it could kick start its mission in the Milky Way and other galaxies.

Designed to locate most elusive and most energetic black holes in order to better understand the structure of the universe, NuStar mast will allow the telescope to capture images of high energy X rays for the first time. The telescope mirrors are separated from the detectors with the help of the mast providing the apt distance that required focusing on X rays. What makes NuStar unique is the mast, this is the first deployable mast ever used on a space telescope.

"It's a real pleasure to know that the mast, an accomplished feat of engineering, is now in its final position," said Yunjin Kim, the NuSTAR project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

The NuStar had to be designed with such a lengthy mast due to the fact that X-rays behave differently than the visible light we see with our eyes. Sunlight easily reflects off surfaces, giving us the ability to see the world around us in color. X-rays, on the other hand, are not readily reflected: they either travel right through surfaces, as is the case with skin during medical X-rays, or they tend to be absorbed, by substances like your bone, for example. To focus X-rays onto the detectors at the back of a telescope, the light must hit mirrors at nearly parallel angles; if they were to hit head-on, they would be absorbed instead of reflected. On NuSTAR, this is accomplished with two barrels of nested mirrors, each containing 133 shells, which reflect the X-rays to the back of the telescope. Because the reflecting angle is so shallow, the distance between the mirrors and the detectors is long. This is called the focal length, and it is maintained by NuSTAR's mast.

It is now that the NuStar team will begin its mission, and will soon commence with taking its first light pictures which will be used to control the telescope. 

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