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March 14, 2012

Thanks to improvements in forensics, it’s no longer true that “dead men tell no tales.” And the same thing applies to dead stars -- new technology helps astronomers piece together the stories of these stars -- how they lived, how they died, and what they’re doing in the stellar “afterlife.”

In fact, NASA’s next space telescope will study the stellar corpses known as neutron stars and black holes and the explosions that gave them birth.

NuStar is fairly small, but thanks to some improved technology it’ll provide the sharpest view yet of the X-ray sky. X-rays are produced by some of the hottest and most energetic objects in the universe -- like dead stars.

Many black holes, for example, are encircled by disks of superhot gas. Some of these disks also shoot powerful “jets” of charged particles into space. NuStar will search for these objects in our own galaxy, as well as for supermassive black holes in other galaxies.

The craft also will study the slightly less dense stellar corpses known as neutron stars. Some of them are highly magnetized, while others produce “winds” of matter and antimatter -- all of which emit X-rays.

And it’ll look at the expanding clouds of gas and dust from supernovae -- the exploding stars that create neutron stars and black holes. The observations will tell us more about the original stars, how they exploded, and how they’re seeding the galaxy with newly made chemical elements -- acts of creation from dying stars.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2012


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