Funneling X-rays through microscopic glass tubes promises to give astronomers a sharper view of the energetic activities deep in space - and a better understanding of the chemical structure of life.
"The concept is pretty simple," said Dr. Marshall Joy, an X-ray astronomer at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. "You gather X-rays at this end and funnel them down to the other end. You can think of it as a lens for x-rays. Right now, there's isn't anything else that does that for X-rays at high energies."
Joy is the principal investigator for the capillary X-ray optics project at NASA/Marshall. Professors Walter Gibson and Carolyn MacDonald at the University at Albany, State University of New York and researchers at X-Ray Optical Systems Inc., also in Albany, work closely with NASA on this project. The work had seed funding from NASA's Microgravity Research Program (see Blueprint for proteins, below).
The x-ray portion of the spectrum covers a large energy range, 100 to 100,000 electron volts (100 eV to 100 keV) compared to about 2 to 4 eV for visible light. Astronomers have learned how to focus X-rays at low energies, but the middle and higher reaches of the X-ray spectrum are difficult to focus. It's as if we could only see the red portion of the visible light spectrum, and the universe darkened in the green spectrum and then went black altogether. Sign up for our EXPRESS SCIENCE NEWS delivery
"A lot of the universe emits at higher energies, but we just can't focus them yet," Joy explained. Energies above 10 keV can be studied only by coded-aperture pinhole cameras and other instruments that give a coarse view of the skies. This makes the 10 to 100 keV range one of the great unexplored frontiers in astrophysics.
The closer you look,the more you see
No one is sure what will be seen at higher energies, but the scientists are going on more than blind faith. They have precedent in their own field.
Contact: John Horack
NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center--Space Sciences Laboratory