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NASA's Chandra X-Ray Observatory at 10: still going strong

By / July 23, 2009

This composite image of the Crab Nebula blends data from the Chandra X-ray Observatory (red) with data from the Hubble Space Telescope (blue). Together, they help tell a compelling story of how jets of matter and antimatter are spewing from the poles of a spinning pulsar at the center of the nebula. The innermost ring is about 1 light-year across.

NASA/CXC/ASU/J.Hester et al

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Space. The final frontier. To boldly mark anniversaries for events that have not crossed this threshold before.

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With apologies to the late Gene Roddenberry, this week marks yet another astronomical anniversary, after Apollo 11's 40th and Shoemaker Levy 9's 15th. NASA's Chandra X-Ray Observatory was launched aboard the space shuttle Columbia 10 years ago today.

The 5-ton, 45-foot-long behemoth is one of four "Great Observatories" that NASA has launched -- orbiting telescopes designed to explore the universe at infrared (the Spitzer Space Telescope), visible (the Hubble Space Telescope), x-ray, and gamma-ray (the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory) wavelengths.

Chandra is being run out of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Mass. In the spirit of David Letterman (if not with the same level of humor), the good folks at the SAO have amassed a Top-10 list of discoveries Chandra has enabled astrophysicists to make. You can find that list, with some stunning photos, at Chandra's 10th anniversary web site. (They tossed in an 11th "bonus" item at the end -- a supernova discovered in 2006.)

It's an impressive list, and includes contributions that shed a bit more light on some of the more bizarre phenomena astrophysicists have uncovered -- dark energy, dark matter, and black holes, for instance. Happy 10th, Chandra!

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