Sunday, July 13, 2008

Chandrasekhar and the X-Ray Revolution


Electromagnetic radiation at the highest end of the spectrum can now be studied. Since x-rays and gamma rays cannot penetrate our atmosphere, all of this work must be done by satellite. Work began in earnest in 1978 when an x-ray telescope was launched, called the High-Energy Astronomy Observatory (later, the Einstein Observatory). The RÃķentgen Satellite (ROSAT) was next launched by Germany in 1990. The Chandra X-ray Observatory (named for astronomer Subrahmanyah Chandrasekhar) was launched into orbit in July 1999 and has produced unparalleled high-resolution images of the x-ray universe. The Chandra image of the Crab Nebula, home to a known pulsar, showed never before seen details of the environment of an exploded star. For recent images, go to www.chandra.harvard.edu. X-rays are detected from very high energy sources, such as the remnants of exploded stars (supernova remnants) and jets of material streaming from the centers of galaxies. Chandra is the premier x-ray instrument, doing in this region of the spectrum what the Hubble Space Telescope has done for optical observations.

In 1991, the Gamma Ray Observatory (GRO) was launched by the space shuttle. It is revealing unique views of the cosmos, especially in regions where the energies involved are very high: near black holes, at the centers of active galaxies, and near neutron stars.

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