Some of the universe’s most extreme phenomena—black holes, neutron stars and remnants of stellar explosions—emit copious amounts of x-rays. Just as medical x-rays penetrate skin to reveal bone, cosmic versions pierce clouds of gas and dust to reveal hidden objects in our galaxy and beyond.
Until now, no NASA mission has been able to focus high-energy x-rays to make a clear, high-quality image. The Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR), to be launched in early 2012, will be the first. Made up of two mirrors, including the one at the right, plus a detector and an expandable mast, its pictures will be 100 times more sensitive than those of previous missions, with a resolution comparable to that of the human eye.