NuSTAR's First Five Years in Space

Five years ago today, on June 13, 2012, Fiona Harrison, the Benjamin M. Rosen Professor of Physics at Caltech and principal investigator of NASA's NuSTAR mission watched with her team as their black-hole-spying spacecraft was launched into space aboard a rocket strapped to the belly of an aircraft. The launch occurred over the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, which is hard to reach, so many members of the team anxiously followed the launch from the mission's operations center at UC Berkeley, unsure of what NuSTAR would see.

Five years later, we sat down with Harrison, who is also the Kent and Joyce Kresa Leadership Chair of the Division of Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy, to get her take on five of the mission's many iconic images and artist concepts—ranging from our flaring sun to distant, buried black holes. NuSTAR is the first telescope capable of focusing high-energy X-rays—and it has taken the most detailed images of the sky in this energy regime to date.

artist's concept of a supermassive black hole
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt (IPAC)

"This is an artist's concept of a region very near a black hole. It was made to go along with some of our very first results, where we measured the spin of a supermassive black hole unambiguously for the first time," says Harrison. "NuSTAR's high-energy X-ray vision allowed us to distinguish between models that explain what produces black holes' X-ray emissions, and this information led us to conclude that the observed black hole is rapidly spinning."

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PMA, astronomy
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