InFOCuS is the first component of a proposed satellite mission called Constellation-X--which scientists hope will have sufficient light-collecting power to observe matter falling into black holes--scheduled to be launched early in the next decade. At the heart of InFOCuS is a different kind of detector that allows high-energy x-rays to be focused without too much scattering. Multilayer mirrors containing carbon and platinum, arranged precisely with the newly developed detector, collected light from the pulsar 4U 0115+63, which is some 23,000 light-years away from Earth in the constellation Cassiopeia. In September, a 20-hour balloon flight at an elevation of 128,000 feet allowed InFOCuS to compile the new image (above).
The latest pulsar picture is a bit fuzzy compared to shots taken by Chandra, but it does provide astronomers with new information about pulsars. And the NASA team hopes that down the road future flights will include improved mirrors that will increase the resolution of high-energy images of this type. "The beauty of balloons is that we can test these cutting-edge technologies for relatively little money, notes principal investigator Jack Tueller. We plan to fly InFOCuS several more times in the next few years."