NASA rocket to study exploding star

(ORDO NEWS) — The NASA-funded Micro-X sounding rocket will monitor the remnant of the exploded star Cassiopeia A (Cas A), about 11,000 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cassiopeia.

Cassiopeia A was discovered in 1948 and has become one of the most studied objects in the night sky. Like shrapnel, the materials from the explosion traveled about 13 light-years through space.

“The sun and 14 stars closest to it would fit inside supernova remnant Cas A,” said Enectali Figueroa-Feliciano, professor of physics and astronomy at Northwestern University in Illinois and principal investigator of the Micro-X mission.

To observe Kas A, scientists will launch a sounding rocket. Sounding rockets make short 15-minute flights into space before returning to earth.

Once Micro-X is in space, it will have about five minutes to observe Cus A, focusing on X-rays. Cosmic X-rays are absorbed by our atmosphere and are therefore only detectable from space.

Although many missions have observed Cus A, the new detectors on the Micro-X will see it much better than before. “Micro-X resolution is about 50 times better than existing orbital observatories,” said Figueroa-Feliciano.

One of Micro-X’s goals is to test new X-ray detectors for future missions such as the ESA (European Space Agency) ATHENA mission.

Micro-X was first launched on July 23, 2018, but the rocket’s attitude control system failed. The detectors worked, but could not accurately point to Cus A during the observation period.

If all goes according to plan, the Micro-X will safely descend to earth to recover. “We hope to return the probe, repair it and launch it again,” Figueroa-Feliciano said.

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