BURLINGTON, Mass. (WPRI) — The Chandra X-Ray telescope, operated and supervised from Burlington, Mass., is being celebrated for its 20 years of observation this year with a new release of photos captured.
“Chandra is an X-ray astronomy workhorse,” said Kim Arcand, the observatory’s visualization lead. “It gets to look at the most extreme events in the universe, things like exploding stars, black holes, colliding galaxies. Pretty incredible stuff.”
Chandra is a sister telescope to the Hubble, but instead of seeing visible light, Chandra sees X-ray energy.
Though many missions are controlled from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory or at Johnson Space Center, Chandra’s base of operations is in Burlington, affiliated with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
“Our team has been very excited because we recently celebrated the 20th anniversary since the spacecraft launch,” engineering operations manager Paul Viens said.
Chandra was carried into space by the Space Shuttle Columbia. It was put into a highly elliptical orbit to avoid the Earth’s radiation belt as much as possible.
“We have about a 63-and-a-half hour orbit, and we spend about 12 to 13 hours inside that radiation belt. Anything outside of that is scientific time,” operations control engineer Jay Wellington explained.
The spacecraft has lasted four times as long as its original mission; the original estimate for its lifetime was just five years, but Chandra is still providing a tremendous amount of cutting-edge data, the crew says.
Pictures of nebulae and exploding stars are not only beautiful but very important to researchers who are trying to understand the universe.
Images from Chandra can show the chemical makeup of materials such as iron, silicon, or sulfur, and where those substances are inside a star.
NASA has contracted Chandra’s team to keep their observations going for at least another 10 years.