NASA's 10 Greatest Achievements


Chandra X-ray Observatory, the High-energy Universe

Perseus galaxy cluster
Combining data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory with radio observations and computer simulations, scientists have found a vast wave of hot gas in the Perseus galaxy cluster. NASA

In 1999, NASA launched what was for many years the most sensitive X-ray telescope ever built. This contraption could see things no one had ever seen before, such as the split second when space particles disappear into a black hole.

X-ray telescopes are different than the more commonplace optical telescopes we're all familiar with. Instead of relying on visible light to form an image, the Chandra X-ray Observatory uses higher-energy particles, namely X-rays.

Due to our planet's shield-like atmosphere, X-rays that originate from other parts of the universe cannot be observed down here on Earth. Instead, scientists have to document these via specialized telescopes that've been sent into space. Orbiting the Earth at 200 times the altitude of Hubble, Chandra is 25 times more sensitive than any previous X-ray telescope [source: Harvard-Smithsonian].

Up there, it focuses on high-energy portions of the universe. The Chandra X-ray observatory has so far delivered clear images of supernova remnants, quasars, exploding stars and supermassive black holes while helping us probe the mysteries of dark matter. And earlier this decade, it detected low-energy X-rays from Pluto [source: NASA].

With the insights it's provided into the life and death of stars, Chandra will enhance our understanding of the origins of the universe. It could also help us assess the habitability of distant planets.

Speaking of life itself, how about the kind that might exist on other planets? Next on our list of NASA successes is Juno, a space probe that is getting us better acquainted with the gas giant Jupiter.