Telescopes from the Ground Up

X-rays have so much energy that they penetrate a mirror when hitting it. Chandra’s four pairs of mirrors, each nestled inside one another, must be carefully shaped and aligned so that the inner, reflecting surfaces are almost parallel to the incoming X-rays. Because of the way the mirrors are positioned, the X-rays bounce across the mirrors, much as a stone skips across the smooth surface of a lake, and are then directed into the detectors, which record their position and energy.

Catching some rays

Chandra has four science instruments. Two provide information about the X-rays’ position, energy, and arrival time. The others provide more detailed information about the X-rays’ energy. The telescope is powered by solar panels.

Chandra celebrated its fifth anniversary in 2004. During its time in orbit, Chandra has increased our understanding of black holes, supernovae, and colliding galaxies. In addition, it has given astronomers a new tool for determining if a planet-forming disk surrounds a young star. The mission is expected to last another 10 years.

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Space Telescopes