Heising-Simons Foundation Science Advisory Board Member, Dr. Fiona Harrison— the Benjamin M. Rosen Professor of Physics, Kent and Joyce Kresa Leadership Chair, Division of Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy at California Institute of Technology—is also renowned for being principal investigator for NASA’s NuSTAR (Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array) mission.
The project recently celebrated 10-years in space with an exciting video detailing the program’s accomplishments over the year. The flagship mission has made numerous discoveries that have increased our scientific understanding of extreme cosmic objects including black holes, supernova remnants, pulsars, and the Sun, to name a few.
To capture these images, NuSTAR utilized high-energy x-rays, which is the same type of radiation that a dentist and doctor use to penetrate through your skin. This groundbreaking approach has allowed scientists the ability to detect and characterize black holes when infalling matter heats up, radiating x-rays that can escape through the surrounding dust and gas that obscures lower energy forms of radiation. NuSTAR has allowed scientists to study how fast black holes are spinning from the spectrum of x-ray light emitted, which is distorted and spread out by the enormous gravity of the black hole in a way predicted by general relativity.