Twenty-four hours at float

X-ray telescope X-Calibur flies high above New Mexico

On Sept. 19, Henric Krawczynski, the principal investigator on the X-Calibur telescope mission, announced on the mission blog that the telescope had landed safely near the border between Arizona and New Mexico. The team retrieved the temperature-sensitive X-ray mirror, but is waiting for a bulldozer to make a path for the recovery truck so the researchers can recover the gondola and the telescope it carries.

Krawczynski, professor of physics in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, has been working since 2014 to test his novel 8-foot-focal-length X-ray telescope. The telescope looks at celestial objects in an entirely new light, measuring the polarization  (the plane in which the electric field of the X-rays oscillates) of the high-energy X-ray emission.

Krawczynski said after the flight that in the 24 hours the telescope floated at the top of the stratosphere, it collected good data on the X-ray emission from a neutron star, a mass-accreting neutron star and a stellar-mass black hole.

It was a picture-perfect end to a sometimes nerve-wracking launch campaign, when it seemed that the weather wouldn’t cooperate in time for the stratospheric turnaround — the reversal of wind direction at altitude that ensures the balloons and their cargo stay within telemetry range during the mission.

In addition to Krawczynski, team members included: Matthias Beilicke, now at the University of Hamburg; Fabian Kislat, a research assistant professor;  Paul Dowknott, an electrical engineer; and graduate student Banafsheh Beheshtipour.

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