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The Chandra Mission

5+ years in space

Text by NASA and Harvard University


NASA's premier X-ray observatory is named the Chandra X-ray Observatory in honour of the late Indian-American Nobel laureate, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar. Known to the world as Chandra (which means "moon" or "luminous" in Sanskrit), he was widely regarded as one of the foremost astrophysicists of the twentieth century. Chandra X-ray Observatory, which was launched and deployed by Space Shuttle Columbia on July 23, 1999, is the most sophisticated X-ray observatory built to date.

The Chandra X-ray Observatory is part of NASA's fleet of "Great Observatories" along with the Hubble Space Telescope, the Spitizer Space Telescope and the now deorbited Compton Gamma Ray Observatory. Chandra allows scientists from around the world to obtain X-ray images of exotic environments to help understand the structure and evolution of the universe. Already surpassing its five-year life, Chandra X-ray Observatory is rewriting textbooks and helping advance technology.

Chandra has begun an exploration of the hot turbulent regions in space with images 25 times sharper than previous X-ray pictures. Chandra can enable astronomers to study the process by which jets of matter are ejected from supermassive black holes in the dense central regions of galaxies.

Chandra's improved sensitivity can make possible more detailed studies of black holes, supernovas, and dark matter and increase our understanding of the origin, evolution, and destiny of the universe.

CHANDRA: The Man behind the Name

Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar (1910-1995).

Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar was one of the foremost astrophysicists of the twentieth century. He was born in Lahore, then a part of British Colonial India, to Sita Balakrishnan and Chandrasekhara Subrahmanya Ayyar in Oct 1910. Trained as a physicist at Presidency College, in Madras, India and at the University of Cambridge, in England, he was one of the first scientists to combine the disciplines of physics and astronomy. Early in his career he demonstrated that there is an upper limit to the mass of a white dwarf star. This limit now called the Chandrasekhar limit showed that stars more massive than the Sun would explode or form black holes as they died. A white dwarf is the last stage in the evolution of a star such as the sun. When the nuclear energy source in the centre of a star such as the sun is exhausted, it collapses to form a white dwarf. This discovery is basic to much of modern astrophysics, since it shows that stars much more massive than the sun must either explode or form black holes.

Text courtesy: NASA & Harvard University


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