Astonomers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics said yesterday they hope the findings of an advanced X-Ray telescope, scheduled to be boosted into orbit early next week, will provide a milestone in astrophysical research.
Sponsored primarily by a Center for Astrophysics (CFA) team headed by professor of astronomy Riccardo Giacconi, the High Energy Astrophysical Observatory-B (HEAO-B), to be renamed the "Einstein Observatory" upon reaching orbit is designed to for the first time take high resolution X-Ray photographs of a variety of distant cosmic objects, including neutron stars, pulsars, quasars, hot gas clouds and clusters of galaxies.
In addition to CFA, groups at MIT, Columbia University and the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland comprise the consortium that will direct the mission, which may run as long as three years.
Giacconi said yesterday that HEAO-B is a necessary tool for studying the universe. "Effective X-Ray astronomy can't be done on the ground...we absolutely must be in space," he said.
HEAO-B should enable astronomers to examine radiation sources a thousand times fainter than those observed until now. "We hope to give the universe a lot of chances to show us something new," he added.
Paul Gorenstein, lecturer on astronomy, said he expects HEAO-B to "Make major contributions not only to X-Ray astronomy but to astronomy in general."
One intriguing subject to be investigated is the possibility that massive black holes exist at the center of some active galaxies.
If all goes according to plan, the HEAO-B will be launched from Cape Kennedy by an Atlas-Centaur rocket shortly after 12:23 a.m. Monday. HEAO-B has no back-up, so a safe launch is essential to the mission's success.
"We've got our fingers crossed," George Field, director of the Center for Astrophysics said yesterday