For 20 years, the Chandra X-ray Observatory has been our X-ray eye in the sky. NASA released new images captured by the space telescope this week to celebrate its two decades in space.
It launched aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia on July 23, 1999. The observations gathered over the last two decades have enabled a greater understanding of the universe and a unique perspective.
The Chandra X-ray Observatory is in NASA’s Great Observatories family. Chandra sees X-rays, while Spitzer detects infrared light, Hubble captures visible and UV light, and Compton was designed for gamma rays.
Because the observatories can capture these different wavelengths of light, they act like detectives and uncover views we can’t see with the naked eye by using telescopes. The telescopes can also work together to provide insight on cosmic mysteries.
“In this year of exceptional anniversaries — 50 years after Apollo 11 and 100 years after the solar eclipse that proved Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity — we should not lose sight of one more,” said Paul Hertz, Director of Astrophysics at NASA. “Chandra was launched 20 years ago, and it continues to deliver amazing science discoveries year after year.”
The telescope’s observations have contributed greatly to the study of astrophysics. It has captured the eruptions of supermassive black holes, including the X-rays from particles up to the last second before they fall into a black hole. The telescope was also involved in finding proof of dark matter and mapping how elements necessary for life can be spread by supernovae.
Its resolution is so strong that Chandra would allow you to read a stop sign from 12 miles away. Iconic images captured by Chandra over the years include its “First Light” image of supernova remnant Cassiopeia A.
Chandra is the sharpest X-ray telescope ever built, NASA said. It was originally proposed in 1976 by Riccardo Giacconi and Harvey Tananbaum. Giacconi was the 2002 recipient of the Nobel Prize for Physics for his work on X-ray astronomy and Tananbaum is the first director of the Chandra X-ray Center.
“The building and operation of Chandra has always been and continues to be a team effort,” said Martin Weisskopf, Chandra Project Scientist of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. “It’s been an honor and a privilege to be involved with this scientific powerhouse.”
The telescope was named for the late Indian-American Nobel laureate Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, one of the foremost astrophysicists of the 20th cecntury. Many knew him as Chandra, which translated to “moon” in Sanskrit.
Chandra is still going strong and its mission has been extended through 2024.