Magazine article Science News

Astro Finally Eyes X-Ray and UV Universe

Magazine article Science News

Astro Finally Eyes X-Ray and UV Universe

Article excerpt

Astro finally eyes X-ray and UV universe

After nearly two days of delays in orbit caused by technical problems that robbed the Astro Observatory of at least 10 percent of its viewing targets, the shuttle-borne astronomical probe began feasting its "eyes" on a host of galaxies, supernovas and ultrahot stars glowing with X-rays and ultraviolet light undetectable by ground-based telescopes.

"It's like walking into a smorgasbord," said mission scientist Ted Gull on Dec. 4. "Our plate is there and we'd like to fill it quite full."

The shuttle Columbia lifted off with Astro in its cargo bay early on the morning of Dec. 2, setting out for a 10-day journey through space. Originally scheduled to fly in February 1986 -- a month after the Challenger accident -- Astro has failed to achieve launch in four attempts since last May.

The observatory features two ultraviolet spectrographs, an ultraviolet camera and a broad-band X-ray telescope. Among its first accomplishments:

* The highest-resolution ultraviolet spectrum ever obtained of Earth's uppermost atmosphere, which extends beyond Columbia's orbit. Researchers must correct for this atmospheric "airglow" in order to interpret Astro's measurements of ultraviolet emissions from distant stars and galaxies.

* A short-exposure spectrum in the ultraviolet, which includes previously undetected wavelengths below 1,200 angstroms emitted by a Seyfert Type I galaxy called NGC4151, whose spiral arms spew intense radiation as the galactic center sucks in matter. …

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