- NTSB hearing on San Francisco airliner crash postponed
- Toronto Mayor Rob Ford insists he has dried out, vows sobriety test
- Greenpeace video warns that climate change is wrecking Santa’s home
- Herman Cain profiled in ‘Political Power’ comic book
- Hagel renews Qatar defense pact despite differences over Iran, Syria
- Fire departments fear Obamacare will gut volunteer ranks
- Rep. Alan Grayson loses $18M in stock scheme
- Christmas secularists get 6-foot beer-can Festivus pole at Florida Statehouse
- George Zimmerman’s girlfriend flips on assault: Let ‘my boyfriend’ go
- Lululemon Athletica chairman quits after firestorm over his fat-thighs comment
NASA launches telescope to seek out black holes
LOS ANGELES (AP) — NASA on Wednesday launched its newest X-ray space telescope on a mission to shine a light on black holes and other hard-to-see objects lurking in the Milky Way and other galaxies.
Mission controllers clapped after receiving a signal from the telescope that it had reached orbit 350 miles above Earth.
"It's a terrific day," Tim Dunn, assistant launch director, said.
NASA decided to air-launch the $170 million mission instead of rocketing off from a launch pad because it was cheaper. The telescope was boosted into orbit by a Pegasus rocket released from a carrier aircraft that took off from the remote Kwajalein Atoll, a horseshoe-shaped Pacific island halfway between Hawaii and Australia.
After free-falling for several seconds, the rocket ignited its engines and climbed to space. Minutes later, the telescope separated from the rocket and unfurled its solar panels as it circled 350 miles above the Earth.
The Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuStar for short, focuses high-energy X-rays to peer through gas and dust in search of supermassive black holes in the center of galaxies, remnants of exploded stars and other exotic celestial objects.
While black holes are invisible, the region around them gives off telltale X-rays. NuStar will observe previously known black holes and map hidden ones. By zeroing in on never-before-seen parts of the universe, scientists hope to better understand how galaxies form and evolve.
"We can view black holes and galaxies even if they're enshrouded with dust and gas. If you had high-energy X-ray eyes and you stared up out of the galaxy, what you would see is the glow of all the massive black holes sprinkled throughout the cosmos," chief scientist Fiona Harrison of the California Institute of Technology said earlier this week.
NuStar also will hunt for the remains of ancient supernovae, or stars that exploded in past centuries. If it's lucky, it'll witness a star's death throes, but such events don't happen often and the telescope will have to be pointed at the right place at the right time.
Scientists expect sharp images from the mission, which is many times more sensitive than previous space telescopes that have looked in this part of the electromagnetic spectrum.
After a week in orbit, NuStar will unwrap its 33-foot mast laden with sensors. Observations will begin about a month after launch.
The mission was supposed to lift off in March but was delayed by a flight software issue with the rocket. To keep costs down, project managers bypassed the launch pad, which would have required a much larger rocket.
The launch comes at a trying time for NASA's astrophysics division. Last week, the space agency killed an X-ray telescope mission because it failed to come in on budget. That mission, called GEMS, was supposed to launch in 2014 and would have observed many of the same targets as Nustar.
NASA is pressing ahead with its flagship astrophysics mission — the budget-busting James Webb Space Telescope, considered the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. It has the capability of peering deeper into the universe and back in time than ever and is expected to launch in 2018 with an $8 billion price tag.
By Tom Fitton
New photos confirm the attack's coordination and its cover-up
- American bourbon now better than Scottish whiskey: U.K.-born expert
- FITTON: A closer look at the Benghazi lie
- Chinese man fed up with his girlfriend's shopping jumps to his death
- Obama shakes hands with Cuba's Raul Castro at Nelson Mandela's funeral
- Israeli P.M. Benjamin Netanyahu backs out of Nelson Mandela funeral
- Troops forced to rely on welfare, holiday charity
- Oregon fails to sign up single person on health care website as states struggle
- Obama lied about Syrian chemical attack, 'cherry-picked' intelligence: report
- George Zimmermans girlfriend flips on assault: Let my boyfriend go
- Obama takes 'selfie' at Mandela's funeral service
Independent voices from the The Washington Times Communities
Notes from a running nerd: musings and more on all things running.
NFL junkie Eric Golub reports on his favorite obsession. There is no football offseason. Every February he pretends to care about other sports while sobbing uncontrollably each Sunday until September.
The cold hard truth about politics in America today and the state of this once great nation.
The world impacts us. What happens in our towns, cities, states, country and on this planet makes a difference to us.
White House pets gone wild!
Let it snow