The Chandra X-ray Observatory (CXO) is a space observatory launched on STS-93 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 23, 1999, its mission ongoing to the present day. Designed to detect x-ray emissions from extremely hot regions of space including galaxy clusters and exploding stars, CXO offers a unique view of the Cosmos from Earth’s orbit, as most X-rays are invisible to ground based telescopes due to their absorption in our planet’s atmosphere (probably better for our health, anyway).

Chandra’s high-tech load-out

It is among the four Great Observatories, alongside Hubble, Compton Gamma Ray, and the Spitzer Space Telescope. Chandra studies sources of high energy in the Cosmos like black holes, quasars, and super novas, revealing the universe as it appears invisible to the human eye. It even observes intriguing phenomena such as colliding galaxies and black holes caught in cosmic hurricanes. Its namesake honors Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, an Indian-American Astrophysicist and Nobel Prize for Physics recipient for his work on stellar evolution.

Formerly dubbed the Advanced X-ray Astrophysics Facility (AXAF), the concept of an X-ray observatory was proposed to NASA in 1976 by Riccardo Giacconi. Giacconi, an Italian American astrophysicist, went on to receive the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2002 for his work which led to the discovery of cosmic X-ray sources. He currently serves as the principal investigator on Chandra’s Deep Field-South project. 

Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar pictured in 1936. 

In 1998, NASA held a contest to rename AXAF, where a high school teacher/student team that suggested honoring Subrahmanyan claimed the prize. After delays pushing back the launch date (typical NASA), Chandra took to the stars on July 23, 1999 on board Space Ship Columbia. It was the heaviest payload ever launched on a space shuttle to the date, and since its ascent into orbit has transmitted data back to Earth on a regular basis beginning from ts first month in orbit. Chandra is operated by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory at the Chandra X-Ray Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Staff from MIT and Northrop Grumman Space Technology assist with project operations.

Originally estimated to last five years, NASA extended its mission lifespan due to the observatory’s outstanding results, and many expect it to last much longer. A remarkable achievement of mankind, the Chandra X-ray Observatory has changed much of our understanding of the Cosmos, enlightening our civilization and paving the way for future breakthroughs and discoveries in the realm of outer space

Below images courtesy of: X-ray: NASA/CXC/UA/J.Irwin et al; Optical: NASA/STScI

Jupiter as seen in X-ray.

SN 1987A, the brightest supernova and nearest one to Earth in the last century. 

SDSS J103842.59+484917.7 or The Cheshire Cat, after its feline resemblance.  

W44, or G34.7-0.4, an expanding supernova remnant interacting with dense interstellar material in georgous display.