Nasa’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR), which will detect X-rays from objects ranging from our Sun to giant black holes billions of light-years away, is scheduled to launch on March 14 from an aircraft operating out of Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. The craft’s advanced telescope consists of two sets of 133 concentric shells of mirrors, which were shaped from flexible glass similar to that found in laptop screens. Because X-rays require large focusing distances, the telescope is equipped with a 10-metre mast, which will unfold a week after launch.
NuSTAR is the first Nasa mission to focus X-rays in the high-energy range, creating the most detailed images ever taken in this slice of the electromagnetic spectrum.
During its two-year primary mission, NuSTAR will survey black holes, map supernova remnants and study particle jets travelling away from black holes at nearly the speed of light. It will also probe the Sun, looking for microfl ares – theorised to be on the surface – that could explain how the Sun’s million-degree corona, or atmosphere, is heated. Even more interestingly, it will test a theory of dark matter, the mysterious substance making up about one-quarter of our Universe, by searching the Sun for evidence of a hypothesised dark matter particle.