NASA, UC Berkeley Telescope to Hunt for Black Holes
HOST: On Wednesday morning, scientists from NASA and UC Berkeley plan to launch a new telescope that will search our galaxy for black holes. As KQED’s Lauren Sommer reports, astronomers hope the mission will solve some of the mysteries surrounding these space oddities.
LAUREN SOMMER: Black holes are called black holes for a reason - their gravity is so strong, not even light can escape. So, you might be wondering how astronomers see them.
FIONA HARRISON: So it’s not the black hole itself you’re seeing. We’re seeing the material around the black hole.
SOMMER: Fiona Harrison is the chief scientist heading up the mission. She says as black holes eat cosmic dust and gas, they emit high energy X-rays, just like the ones found in a doctor’s office. The NuSTAR telescope will take images of these X-rays at a resolution never before possible.
HARRISON: It’s like trying to read a book without your glasses. You know there’s text there, but you can’t make out the letters. But when we have NuSTAR, we’ll be able to make out the majority of the story.
SOMMER: And Harrison says there are still plenty of mysteries in that story to solve.
HARRISON: People have thought that black holes are rare and exotic, but that’s actually far from true. Every massive galaxy has a massive black hole.
SOMMER: Black holes can influence the galaxies around them and how stars form.
HARRISON: So if we want to understand how the universe went from this uniform cosmic soup to the structure we see today, we have to understand black holes.
SOMMER: The telescope will launch from an airplane over the Pacific Ocean. Scientists at the mission control center at UC Berkeley expect to start getting data from the $170 million telescope in a few weeks.