Credit: Constellation-X team; NASA

Resolution for the Next Decade

Astronomy is, in large measure, a struggle to detect ever fainter objects at high significance. This can be accomplished by building bigger telescopes. But there are practical limits (mainly technological and financial) which determine how large a telescope can be. So astronomers have devised ways to allow many small (cheap) telescopes do the work of one large (expensive) telescope. This technique has been in use by radio astronomers for many years. It has recently been adapted for use by optical astronomers. Now X-ray astronomers are getting into the act. The picture above represents a next-generation X-ray telescope called Constellation-X. Constellation-X will consist of four identical X-ray telescopes which will operate jointly to provide the capability of one much larger X-ray telescope. Constellation-X will be used by X-ray astronomers to produce extremely high resolution X-ray spectra of faint objects in crowded fields. The right side of the above image shows a simulation of an X-ray spectrum obtained by Constellation-X, compared to a spectrum from the X-ray spectral detectors on ASTRO-E (the instrument with the next-highest X-ray spectral resolution). In the spectra a feature that appears as an unresolved "lump" to ASTRO-E is cleanly resolved into individual emission lines by Constellation-X. The higher spectral resolution provided by Constellation-X will allow astronomers to measure accurately the motions of gas around normal stars and near black holes. Constellation-X is currently expected to launch in 2010.

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Each week the HEASARC brings you new, exciting and beautiful images from X-ray and Gamma ray astronomy. Check back each week and be sure to check out the HEAPOW archive!

Page Author: Dr. Michael F. Corcoran
Last modified December 31, 2001