Friday, September 30, 2022

Rocket launch to see supernova remnants

Cassiopeia A. credit: NASA/CXC/SAO

The Northwestern University astrophysics team aims to reach stars—well, dead stars, that is.

21, a NASA-funded team will launch the “Micro-X” program. Rocket from White Sands Missile Range in southern New Mexico. The rocket will spend 15 minutes in space — enough time to take a quick image of the supernova remnant Cassiopeia A, a star in the constellation Cassiopeia that exploded about 11,000 light-years from Earth. Then, the missile will parachute back to Earth, landing in the desert about 45 miles from the launch pad – where the Northwest team will recover its payload.

Micro-X, short for “High Resolution Micro X-ray Imaging Rocket,” will carry a superconducting X-ray imaging spectrometer that will be able to measure the energy of every X-ray coming from an astronomical source with unprecedented accuracy.

“The supernova remnant is so hot that most of the light emitted from it is not within visible range,” said Annectali Figueroa-Feliciano of Northwestern, who led the project. “We have to use X-ray imaging, which is not possible from Earth because our atmosphere absorbs X-rays. So we have to go to space. It’s like you’re bouncing in the air, taking pictures Like your head peeping out, the atmosphere and then the land.

Cassiopeia A. credit: NASA / CXC / A. Hobart

Figueroa-Feliciano is Professor of Physics and Astronomy in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and a member of the Northwestern Center for Interdisciplinary Exploration and Research in Astrophysics (CIERA). He advises a team of seven graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and postgraduate researchers who have spent the past decade building and testing the rocket.

Although Micro-X was launched from New Mexico, the team built the rocket and its payload at the Figueroa-Feliciano Laboratory on the Evanston campus. The hardest part is keeping the superconducting detector at a cold temperature—a few degrees above absolute zero—even though it warms up as it enters the atmosphere. The team solved this problem with a flask filled with liquid helium, which isolated it from the heat and vibrations in the missile’s shell during flight.

credit: Northwestern University

“Building the Micro-X was a difficult undertaking,” says Figueroa Feliciano. “Once launched, it has to be a completely hands-off process. It has to run, record the data, store the data and send the data back to us independently. It allows students to build real technology. And gives an opportunity to learn how to test.”

Now in New Mexico, the team is assembling the rocket and preparing it for flight. People can follow the team’s journey on Instagram.

The team first tested the six-story rocket at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia and launched it for the first time in the summer of 2018. During the rocket’s maiden flight, the researchers demonstrated that its detectors, along with its superconducting electronic readings, operated. in a vacuum.

By studying the supernova remnant, which measures a full 10 light-years, Figueroa-Feliciano hopes to learn more about life on Earth and within our bodies.

“We are all made of stars,” he said. “The elements in our bodies form in the cores of stars. When stars explode, they shoot projectiles into space. Cassiopeia A is so large that the Sun and the 14 stars closest to the Sun could all fit into a single supernova remnant. From here the events spread across the galaxy and eventually culminated in the formation of Earth-like planets.

Collaborating institutions include NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

Northwestern Rocket Launches on July 22 to Explore ‘Star Stuff’

Northwestern University

Citation: Rocket Launch on Supernova Remnant (2022, August 11) Accessed August 11, 2022 from

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