From First Light to Eighth Anniversary
NASA: We have booster ignition and liftoff of Columbia, reaching new heights for women and X-ray Astronomy.
Martin Elvis: The main thing Chandra does is take these superb, sharp images.
Cady Coleman: Nothing as beautiful as Chandra trailing off on its way to work
Chandra's launch aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia on July 23, 1999, was obviously a very important event. However, you might say it wasn't until about a month later that the Chandra mission really got started. In late August, after weeks of getting the spacecraft into the correct orbit and testing out various aspects of the satellite, Chandra was ready for its debut to the public. This was Chandra's First Light. Chandra's director, Dr. Harvey Tananbaum, explains the significance of that early image.
The very first images began to give you a sense that Chandra was going to be very different. The official First Light image of Cassiopeia A, in just about an hour, an hour and a half's exposure, we could see a faint dot in the center of the image which is the neutron star that was formed when that star blew up 300 years ago. We understood after we saw it, it was fainter than was anticipated. Previous x-ray satellites couldn't detect it because it was simply entangled in the extended emission that the rest of the supernova explosion created.
Of course, First Light was just the beginning of Chandra's exciting discoveries. Dr. Alan Smale, program executive for Chandra at NASA Headquarters, attempts to put the scope of this observatory's contributions into context.
The science coming out of Chandra has always been remarkable, from the First Light image right up through when Chandra made an independent determination of the Hubble Constant, which I think was a fairly amazing thing and something certainly nobody could have predicted at the time of launch. It's difficult to know specifically where to focus myself when I'm talking about Chandra's legacy because it's made such great advances all across X-ray Astronomy, from planetary science through studies of supernovae, isolated stars, neutron star binaries, black holes, all the way out to AGN and the Active Galactic Nuclei in clusters of galaxies. Really the remarkable thing about Chandra is just how many scientific advances have been made, how many discoveries have been made, and they're still coming out, week after week after week, even in the seventh year of the mission.
Dr. Jeremy Drake, an astrophysicist at the Chandra X-ray Center, describes the difference between our understanding before Chandra and now, some eight years later.
Chandra is now taking all those very vague ideas that we had about the way the x-ray universe is working and really giving us the physics behind it. Rather than just sort of vague descriptions of how things might work, we're now starting to know how things work with Chandra. So from there on, this is really defining what we need to do in the future for x-ray missions. It's building on essentially what we've learned from Chandra.
For those who have been involved with X-ray Astronomy since its early years, Chandra represents an enormous step forward in understanding the high-energy Universe. Dr. Christine Jones has worked on such earlier X-ray missions such as Uhuru, Einstein, and ROSAT. She now uses Chandra to study, among other things, galaxies and clusters of galaxies with a perspective that spans almost the entire history of the X-ray Astronomy field.
Now again, another huge leap forward with the Chandra Observatory, where the sensitivity and the really exquisite spatial resolution has just allowed us to see things that you wouldn't have predicted being there.
From First Light to eighth anniversary, Chandra has already taken a remarkable journey. The future remains open to many new discoveries. We look forward to learning what Chandra finds, both expected and unexpected, as it helps us explore our Universe.