Chandra X-ray Observatory

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For other uses, see Chandra (disambiguation).

Chandra X-ray Observatory


OrganizationNASA, SAO, CXC
Wavelength regimeX-ray
Orbit height10 000 km (perigee), 140 161 km (apogee)
Orbit period3858 min, 64.3 h
Launch date23 July 1999
Deorbit dateN/A
Mass4 800 kg, 10 600 lb
Other namesAdvanced X-ray Astrophysics Facility, AXAF
COSPAR ID1999-040B
Physical characteristics
Telescope style4 nested pairs of grazing incidence paraboloid and hyperboloid mirrors
Diameter1.2 m, 3.9 ft
Collecting area0.04 m² at 1 keV, 0.4 ft² at 1 keV
Focal length10 m, 33 ft
ACISimaging spectrometer
HETGShigh resolution spectrometer
LETGShigh resolution spectrometer

The Chandra X-ray Observatory is a satellite launched on STS-93 by NASA on July 23, 1999. It was named in honor of Indian-American physicist Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar who is known for determining the mass limit for white dwarf stars to become neutron stars. "Chandra" also means "moon" or "luminous" in Sanskrit.

Chandra Observatory is the third of NASA's four Great Observatories. The first was Hubble Space Telescope; second the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, launched in 1991; and last is the Spitzer Space Telescope. Prior to successful launch, the Chandra Observatory was known as AXAF, the Advanced X-ray Astrophysics Facility. AXAF was assembled and tested by TRW (now Northrop Grumman Space Technology) in Redondo Beach, California.

Since the Earth's atmosphere absorbs the vast majority of X-rays, they are not detectable from Earth-based telescopes, requiring a space-based telescope to make these observations.


The data gathered by Chandra have greatly advanced the field of X-ray astronomy.

Technical description

File:Sn2006gy CHANDRA x-ray.jpg
SN 2006gy (upper right) and its parent galaxy NGC 1260 (lower left) in false color as observed through the Chandra X-Ray Observatory.

Unlike optical telescopes which possess simple aluminized parabolic surfaces (mirrors), X-ray telescopes generally have nested cylindrical paraboloid and hyperboloid surfaces coated with iridium or gold. X-ray photons would be absorbed by normal mirror surfaces, so mirrors with a low grazing angle are necessary to reflect them. Chandra uses four pairs of nested iridium mirrors, together with their support structure, called the High Resolution Mirror Assembly (HRMA).

Chandra's high elliptical orbit allows it to observe continuously for up to 55 hours of its 65 hour orbital period.

With an angular resolution of 0.5 arcsecond (2.4 µrad), Chandra possesses a resolution over one thousand times better than that of the first orbiting X-ray telescope.


The Science Instrument Module (SIM) holds the two focal plane instruments, the Advanced CCD Imaging Spectrometer (ACIS) and the High Resolution Camera (HRC), moving whichever is called for into position during an observation.

ACIS consists of 10 CCD chips and provides images as well as spectral information of the object observed. It operates in the range of 0.2 - 10 keV. HRC has two micro-channel plate components and images over the range of 0.1 - 10 keV. It also has a time resolution of 16 microseconds. Both of these instruments can be used on their own or in conjunction with one of the observatory's two transmission gratings.

The transmission gratings, which swing into the optical path behind the mirrors, provide Chandra with high resolution spectroscopy. The High Energy Transmission Grating Spectrometer (HETGS) works over 0.4 - 10 keV and has a spectral resolution of 60-1000. The Low Energy Transmission Grating Spectrometer (LETGS) has a range of 0.09 - 3 keV and a resolution of 40-2000.

File:Chandra X-ray telescope prepared for launch.jpg
Chandra X-ray Observatory and Inertial Upper Stage sit inside the payload bay on Space Shuttle Columbia mission STS-93.


In 1976 the Chandra X-ray Observatory (called AXAF at the time) was proposed to NASA by Riccardo Giacconi and Harvey Tananbaum. Preliminary work began the following year at Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO). In the meantime, in 1978, NASA launched the first imaging X-ray telescope, Einstein (HEAO-2), into orbit. Work continued on the Chandra project through the 1980's and 1990's. In 1992, to reduce costs, the spacecraft was redesigned. Four of the twelve planned mirrors were eliminated, as were two of the six scientific instruments. Chandra's planned orbit was changed to an elliptical one, reaching one third of the way to the Moon's at its farthest point. This eliminated the possibility of improvement or repair by the space shuttle but put the observatory above the Earth's radiation belts for most of its orbit.

AXAF was renamed Chandra in 1998 and launched in 1999 by the shuttle Columbia (STS-93). At 22753 kg, it was the heaviest payload ever launched by the shuttle, a consequence of the two-stage Inertial Upper Stage booster rocket system needed to transport the spacecraft to its high orbit.

Chandra has been returning data since the month after it launched. It is operated by the SAO at the Chandra X-ray Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with assistance from MIT and Northrop Grumman Space Technology. The ACIS CCDs suffered particle damage during early radiation belt passages. To prevent further damage, the instrument is now removed from the telescope's focal plane during passages.

In 2004 Chandra celebrated its fifth year of operation.

See also

Sources and notes

  • Pavlov GG, Zavlin VE, Aschenbach B, Trumper J, Sanwal D (2000). "The Compact Central Object in Cassiopeia A: A Neutron Star with Hot Polar Caps or a Black Hole?". Astrophysical Journal. 531 (1): L53–L56. PMID 10673413.
  • Weisskopf MC, Hester JJ, Tennant AF, Elsner RF, Schulz NS, Marshall HL, Karovska M, Nichols JS, Swartz DA, Kolodziejczak JJ, O'Dell SL (2000). "Discovery of Spatial and Spectral Structure in the X-Ray Emission from the Crab Nebula". Astrophysical Journal. 536 (2): L81–L84. PMID 10859123.
  • Baganoff FK, Bautz MW, Brandt WN, Chartas G, Feigelson ED, Garmire GP, Maeda Y, Morris M, Ricker GR, Townsley LK, Walter F (2001). "Rapid X-ray flaring from the direction of the supermassive black hole at the Galactic Centre". Nature. 413 (6851): 45–8. PMID 11544519.
  • Griffiths RE, Ptak A, Feigelson ED, Garmire G, Townsley L, Brandt WN, Sambruna R, Bregman JN (2000). "Hot plasma and black hole binaries in starburst galaxy M82". Science. 290 (5495): 1325–8. PMID 11082054.
  • Piro L, Garmire G, Garcia M, Stratta G, Costa E, Feroci M, Meszaros P, Vietri M, Bradt H, Frail D, Frontera F, Halpern J, Heise J, Hurley K, Kawai N, Kippen RM, Marshall F, Murakami T, Sokolov VV, Takeshima T, Yoshida A (2000). "Observation of X-ray lines from a gamma-ray burst (GRB991216): evidence of moving ejecta from the progenitor". Science. 290 (5493): 955–8. PMID 11062121.
  • Kastner JH, Richmond M, Grosso N, Weintraub DA, Simon T, Frank A, Hamaguchi K, Ozawa H, Henden A (2004). "An X-ray outburst from the rapidly accreting young star that illuminates McNeil's nebula". Nature. 430 (6998): 429–31. PMID 15269761.

External links

cs:Rentgenová observatoř Chandra de:Chandra (Teleskop) hr:Chandra it:Chandra hu:Chandra űrtávcső nl:Chandra X-Ray Observatory no:Chandra X-ray Observatory sk:Chandra sv:Chandra-teleskopet