X-Calibur, a novel telescope that sees polarized X-rays rather than visible or infrared light, is preparing to launch from the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility in Fort Sumner, N.M. The telescope’s scientific team is led by Henric Krawczynski, professor of physics in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis.
Early in September, the X-Calibur mission, preparing for launch at the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility in Fort Sumner, N.M., put its pointing system through its paces to make sure all of its parts were working in programmed harmony.
In a few days, a balloon-borne telescope sensitive to the polarization of high-energy “hard” X rays will ascend to the edge of the atmosphere above Fort Sumner, N.M., to stare fixedly at black holes and other exotic astronomical objects. It will be carried aloft by a stratospheric balloon that will expand to a sphere large enough to hold a 747 jetliner the float height of 120,000 feet, three times the height at which commercial aircraft fly and on the edge of Earth’s atmosphere. Launching the balloon is not child’s play.
In a few days, a balloon-borne telescope sensitive to the polarization of high-energy “hard” X-rays will ascend to the edge of the atmosphere above Fort Sumner, N.M. Once aloft, the telescope will stare at black holes, neutron stars and other exotic astronomical objects that shine brightly in the X-ray part of the spectrum in order to learn about their nature and structure. After years of preparation, the X-Calibur team is racing to get the experiment mission-ready in time for the stratospheric wind event they hope to ride.
NASA has just funded Henri Krawczynski and his colleague Matthias Beilicke, to launch a balloon-borne telescope sensitive to the polarization of light that will float at an altitude of 130,000 feet for a day. During that time, the balloon will stare fixedly at two black holes in our galaxy, an accreting neutron star, the Crab nebula, an extragalactic black hole and other targets yet to be chosen. One of the first instruments of its type, it should be able to make the first direct measurements of the spin rate of black holes, among other advancements.