Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Blurry view from Chandra’s space telescope

06.11.2003


ONE of NASA’s highest profile space telescopes is losing its sight. The $2 billion Chandra X-Ray Observatory is suffering from a mysterious build-up of grease on an optical filter in front of one of its cameras, blocking almost half the light at some frequencies.



Since being placed in orbit by the space shuttle in 1999, Chandra has been studying X-rays emitted by astronomical objects such as quasars and black holes. It is expected to carry on working for up to 15 years.

Jane Turner, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, was one of the first scientists to spot something strange in her data. She compared data from an instrument on Chandra called the Advanced CCD Imaging Spectrometer (ACIS) with similar data from a European spacecraft called the X-ray Multi-Mirror (XMM) telescope, and found some discrepancies in the low-energy region of the X-ray spectrum.


This low-energy data is useful for determining how much gas there is between the instrument and an X-ray source because it can show how much light is absorbed. If you didn’t know about the contamination, she says, it could look as if there was a gas cloud in front of the object of study.

Scientists soon identified a problem with a filter in front of the instrument, which allowed them to add a correction factor to their data. "It slowed everyone down at first, but these things happen," she says. Astronomers had expected to see a certain amount of contamination on the filter.

Some materials used on spacecraft evaporate in a vacuum and tend to settle on the coldest surfaces nearby. ACIS is at about -100 C. But the level of contamination is much higher than anyone anticipated.

"There is ten times as much contamination as we expected at launch," says Herman Marshall, an astrophysicist with the Center for Space Research at MIT. In the three years since the launch, a layer of grease 0.37 micrometres thick has built up on the filter. That’s thicker than the filter itself, he says.

Scientists are not yet sure what is causing the build-up. Analysis of the contamination shows that it contains carbon and fluorine, which points to a problem with a fluorocarbon lubricant called Braycote used on the spacecraft or with other sources of fluorine such as Teflon-coated screws.

Braycote was chosen because it does not normally evaporate at low temperatures. But Marshall thinks the contamination may have occurred when molecules in the lubricant were broken down by mechanical stresses and then bombarded with radiation.

These breakdown products could then have evaporated and settled on the filter. The contamination only affects a small percentage of the data Chandra is collecting. "The issue is mainly with sources at lower energies and lower temperatures," says Dan Schwartz, a physicist at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

But in this region of the spectrum the contamination is absorbing about half of the light, he says. "I would guess about 20 to 25 per cent of people have added uncertainty in their data, but it probably doesn’t affect scientific conclusions." Now engineers are working out how to remove the grease. Next month, they may heat up the instrument in the hope of boiling away the contaminants.

A "bakeout" has its own risks, because too much heat could damage the camera or the filter. Or the contamination could settle somewhere worse, says Chandra programme manager Keith Hefner. So far, the other instruments on board are unaffected. "The vehicle is still performing well," says Hefner.

Claire Bowles | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.rbi.co.uk

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Spiral arms: not just in galaxies
30.09.2016 | Max-Planck-Institut für Radioastronomie

nachricht Discovery of an Extragalactic Hot Molecular Core
29.09.2016 | National Astronomical Observatory of Japan

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: First-Ever 3D Printed Excavator Project Advances Large-Scale Additive Manufacturing R&D

Heavy construction machinery is the focus of Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s latest advance in additive manufacturing research. With industry partners and university students, ORNL researchers are designing and producing the world’s first 3D printed excavator, a prototype that will leverage large-scale AM technologies and explore the feasibility of printing with metal alloys.

Increasing the size and speed of metal-based 3D printing techniques, using low-cost alloys like steel and aluminum, could create new industrial applications...

Im Focus: New welding process joins dissimilar sheets better

Friction stir welding is a still-young and thus often unfamiliar pressure welding process for joining flat components and semi-finished components made of light metals.
Scientists at the University of Stuttgart have now developed two new process variants that will considerably expand the areas of application for friction stir welding.
Technologie-Lizenz-Büro (TLB) GmbH supports the University of Stuttgart in patenting and marketing its innovations.

Friction stir welding is a still-young and thus often unfamiliar pressure welding process for joining flat components and semi-finished components made of...

Im Focus: First quantum photonic circuit with electrically driven light source

Optical quantum computers can revolutionize computer technology. A team of researchers led by scientists from Münster University and KIT now succeeded in putting a quantum optical experimental set-up onto a chip. In doing so, they have met one of the requirements for making it possible to use photonic circuits for optical quantum computers.

Optical quantum computers are what people are pinning their hopes on for tomorrow’s computer technology – whether for tap-proof data encryption, ultrafast...

Im Focus: OLED microdisplays in data glasses for improved human-machine interaction

The Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP has been developing various applications for OLED microdisplays based on organic semiconductors. By integrating the capabilities of an image sensor directly into the microdisplay, eye movements can be recorded by the smart glasses and utilized for guidance and control functions, as one example. The new design will be debuted at Augmented World Expo Europe (AWE) in Berlin at Booth B25, October 18th – 19th.

“Augmented-reality” and “wearables” have become terms we encounter almost daily. Both can make daily life a little simpler and provide valuable assistance for...

Im Focus: Artificial Intelligence Helps in the Discovery of New Materials

With the help of artificial intelligence, chemists from the University of Basel in Switzerland have computed the characteristics of about two million crystals made up of four chemical elements. The researchers were able to identify 90 previously unknown thermodynamically stable crystals that can be regarded as new materials. They report on their findings in the scientific journal Physical Review Letters.

Elpasolite is a glassy, transparent, shiny and soft mineral with a cubic crystal structure. First discovered in El Paso County (Colorado, USA), it can also be...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Call for Paper – Panacea Green Infrastructure?

30.09.2016 | Event News

HLF: From an experiment to an establishment

29.09.2016 | Event News

European Health Forum Gastein 2016 kicks off today

28.09.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

First-Ever 3D Printed Excavator Project Advances Large-Scale Additive Manufacturing R&D

30.09.2016 | Materials Sciences

New Technique for Finding Weakness in Earth’s Crust

30.09.2016 | Earth Sciences

Cells migrate collectively by intermittent bursts of activity

30.09.2016 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>