Launch date: July 23, 1999
Launch vehicle: space shuttle Columbia
Time to orbit Earth: 64 hours
Altitude: from 9,660 km (6,000 miles) to 139,000 km (86,500 miles)
Length (sun shade open): 45.3 feet
Width (solar arrays open): 64 feet
Satellite builder: TRW
Fast Fact: Chandra was deployed on the first shuttle mission commanded by a woman, Col. Eileen Collins.
The Chandra Space Telescope, an X-ray observatory, was the third in NASA's collection of "Great Observatories" orbiting Earth. The Great Observatories were designed to send back detailed information about space.
The Chandra X-ray Observatory is currently in orbit around Earth, peering out into the universe in search of extremely high-temperature events in space. These events give off X-rays, which are a highly energized form of light that cannot be seen by human eyes. X-rays can't make it through the Earth's atmosphere, so for astronomers to study them, X-ray telescopes like the Chandra must be based in space. The Chandra collects X-rays, some from as far as ten billion light years away, and uses a high resolution camera (HRC) to interpret them into images. The Chandra also contains scientific instruments that can measure the strength and temperature of X-rays.
Because X-rays would be absorbed right into the dish-shaped mirrors typically used in telescopes that measure visible light, the Chandra contains barrel-shaped mirrors with reflecting surfaces that run almost parallel to the X-rays. The X-rays barely bounce off the mirrors and are focused onto a point about half the width of a human hair, where they are recorded and measured.
X-ray telescopes are important because they allow us to see events in space that would normally be invisible to us. High-energy events such as huge explosions, black holes and neutron stars can be seen in much greater detail with an X-ray telescope, and X-ray telescope images can add an extra dimension to objects in space that also give off visible light.
The Chandra, which is named after Nobel prize winner Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, orbits up to 200 times higher above Earth than the Hubble—about a third of the distance to the moon! Chandra is the third in NASA's series of four great observatories designed to explore the universe from Earth's orbit.
The Science Center's Chandra Space Telescope
The Chandra telescope on display in the gallery is a 1/5th-scale model on loan from TRW.