At noon Eastern time on Wednesday, NuSTAR (Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array) blasted towards low-Earth orbit from a Pegasus XL rocket, after it was dropped from the belly of a carrier jet circling near the Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific Ocean.
The X-ray mission, a low-cost NASA mission in its small Explorer line of competitive missions, is expected to discover hundreds of new supermassive black holes that lie in the hearts of distant galaxies.
A lot is riding on NuSTAR — it is one of few missions in sight for X-ray astronomers. Just last week, GEMS, a similar-looking mission that would have gathered polarized X-ray light, was canceled because of budget overruns. While NuSTAR is no replacement for general purpose X-ray observatories like Chandra and XMM-Newton, it will have unprecedented sensitivity in the “hard”, or high-energy, X-ray part of the spectrum.