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NuStar spreads its arms out wide

Long, strong mast ready for black holes

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The NuStar X-ray telescope mission has taken a key step towards going live, successfully deploying its 10-meter mast, according to NASA.

The mast, separates the telescope’s mirrors from its detectors, was folded for the lift into space. It took just 26 minutes for the scope’s 56 cube-shaped units to be inched outwards by a motor into their final position.

As NASA explains, the long mast is needed to give the telescope the right focal length – and the long focal length of NuStar is a function of the narrow reflecting angle of the nested mirrors. Capturing X-rays is difficult, since they have to strike the mirrors at the right angle to be reflected towards the detectors, rather than being absorbed by the mirrors.

The folded design allowed NuStar to be launched from the small, Orbital Science Corp Pegasus rocket, which was air-launched eight days ago from Orbital’s L-1011 Stargazer plane.

The next step in the mission will be for NuStar to begin taking calibration pictures, in about five days from now. The telescope’s black hole hunt is due to begin within the month. ®

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