When NASA launches a new telescope this Wednesday that will look at black holes in ways never seen before, Georgia Tech astrophysicist David Ballantyne will be more than a curious bystander. He helped plan the mission.
Ballantyne, one of the Institute’s black hole experts, is on the science team of NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR), which is scheduled for launch Wednesday morning. He’s one of a handful of people who decided where the high-energy X-ray telescope will point while in orbit. NuSTAR’s technology will allow it to image areas of the universe in never-before-seen ways. Ballantyne will be among the first scientists to see the images and examine the data when it becomes available this later this summer.
NuSTAR will provide a window to the murky world of black holes. The high-energy X-ray technology will allow us to see black holes that are buried deep inside their galaxies, hidden behind thick clouds of dust and gas. The goal is to unmask these black holes, study their host galaxies, and figure out how the black holes affect galaxy formation and evolution.
NuSTAR will survey three areas of the sky. The surveys should uncover about 500 black holes, some of which have never been detected by any other telescope. Seeing more means learning more. If you knew nothing about humans and looked at one person, you would quickly discover that we have two eyes, a nose and a mouth. But the deeper knowledge – traits such as aging, cultures – is only discovered by looking at a wide range of people. The more black holes we discover and study, the more we will understand about their roles in the cosmos.
Ballantyne plans to live stream the launch, which is scheduled for no earlier than 11:30 a.m., from his office in the Boggs Building (photo courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech).
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