Cal Poly to Host May 14 Presentation on NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory

Since its launch in 1999, the observatory has been NASA’s flagship mission for X-ray astronomy, providing images of the cosmos that cannot be seen by the human eye

Rodolfo Montez Jr.
SAN LUIS OBISPO — Cal Poly will celebrate the 20th anniversary of NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory with a talk showcasing some of the imagery of the universe and the scientific discoveries made because of the orbiting telescope at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, May 14, in Spanos Theater on campus.

The presentation is free and open to the public.

Rodolfo Montez Jr., an astrophysicist from Massachusetts-based Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, will give an overview of the scientific discoveries enabled by Chandra — from objects in our own solar system to those at the farthest reaches of the universe.

The Chandra X-ray Observatory, which was launched by Space Shuttle Columbia on July 23, 1999, is the world's most powerful X-ray telescope. It has eight-times greater resolution and is able to detect sources more than 20-times fainter than any previous X-ray telescope.

One of NASA’s Great Observatories, along with the Hubble Space Telescope and two others, Chandra gives scientists a vision of the otherwise invisible high-energy universe. From its orbit above the Van Allen belts, Chandra detects X-ray emissions from very hot regions of the universe such as exploded stars, clusters of galaxies and matter around black holes

Chandra is the most sophisticated X-ray observatory built to date. Its elliptical orbit takes the spacecraft from its closest approach to the Earth (9,942 miles) to an altitude of 82,646 miles — more than a third of the distance to the moon — every 64 hours and 18 minutes. This makes for uninterrupted observations (above the charged particles that surround the Earth) of as long as 55 hours, making the overall percentage of useful observing time much greater than the low Earth orbit of a few hundred kilometers used by most satellites.

X-rays are produced in the cosmos when matter is heated to millions of degrees. A vast cloud of hot gas in a cluster of galaxies can be several million light years across and contain enough matter to make hundreds of trillions of stars.

X-ray telescopes can also trace the hot gas from an exploding star or detect X-rays from matter swirling as close as 90 kilometers from the event horizon of a stellar black hole. Chandra can better define the hot, turbulent regions of space. This increased clarity is helping scientists answer fundamental questions about the origin, evolution and destiny of the universe.

Chandra has observed the region around the supermassive black hole in the center of the Milky Way galaxy and found black holes across the universe. The observatory has traced the separation of dark matter from normal matter in the collision of galaxies and imaged the glowing remains of exploded stars.

Montez received the first doctorate awarded by the Rochester Institute of Technology Astrophysical Sciences and Technology program. He started at the Center for Astrophysics in 2016 and is a scientist in the Chandra Director’s Office. He performs executive duties for the observatory while maintaining a research program on the fate of sun-like stars.

Chandra X-ray telescope

Contact: David Mitchell
805-756- 5290; dsmitche@calpoly.edu 
May 7, 2019

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