Rocket Mission collects evidence on Dead Star in 5 minutes

Coroners need hours at crime scenes to gather information on homicides. However, the High-Resolution X-ray Imaging Microcalorimeter, or Micro-X, developed by Northwestern University and funded by NASA, embarked on a five-minute “astronomical forensic mission” to gather evidence on the death of a star.

The mission was launched Aug. 21 on a “sounding rocket” from the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. According to the official NASA website, the study target of the mission is about 11,000 light-years from Earth, where there is a huge bubble of radiant matter known as Cassiopeia A (Cas A), a remnant of a “supernova” in the constellation Cassiopeia.

A supernova is a transient astronomical event that occurs during the final evolutionary stages of a massive star, marking a powerful stellar explosion in which the star dies and blasts its atmosphere out into space. According to celestial calculations, the supernova Cassiopeia A reached Earth about 342 years ago, precisely in 1680, and was discovered by astronomers in 1948. Since then, Cas A has become one of the most studied objects in the world. night sky.

To observe Case A, Micro-X launched aboard a sounding rocket, performing 15-minute forays into space. Once in space, Micro-X had about five minutes to observe Cas A, focusing on its X-ray light. Cosmic X-rays are absorbed by our atmosphere and therefore only detectable from space.

“The X-ray energy spectrum is like a fingerprint revealing the composition, history and condition of the gas and ejecta from the explosion. Like forensic evidence, it gives us clues as to how whose death of the star occurred,” explained Enectali Figueroa-Feliciano in a report published on the official NASA website on August 19.

Although many missions have observed Case A, Micro-X’s new detectors have seen it like never before because it has about 50 times the resolution of existing orbital observatories, Figueroa-Feliciano said.


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