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CIFAR’s Victoria Kaspi a key player in the NuSTAR mission

by CIFAR Jun 25 / 12

On June 13, 2012, NASA launched the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR), a telescope that will collect high-energy x-ray photons from the Universe and create sharper and more sensitive images than any other x-ray telescope before.

This telescope will help scientists better understand the distribution of black holes in the cosmos, how stars explode and create elements, and how the most extreme active galaxies are powered. Victoria M. Kaspi (McGill) and Roger Blandford (Stanford), researchers in CIFAR’s Cosmology and Gravity program, are on the NuSTAR mission team.

Dr. Kaspi talked to the CIFAR communications team about her role in the project and how this telescope is important for her work. She researches neutron stars, which are dense objects in our Universe that are formed when a massive star collapses. In particular, she uses radio and x-ray telescopes to study pulsars, which are rapidly rotating, highly magnetized neutron stars that emit radio radiation. Her interests include studying magnetars or pulsars with intense magnetic fields. Using telescopes to study the physical behavior of neutron stars will help scientists get a better understanding of what happens when a massive star collapses and also uncover the physical laws that govern our Universe.

Q. How did you first get involved in the project?

I am good friends with NuSTAR’s Principal Investigator Fiona Harrison and had been aware of the project since its inception. I joined the science team to offer expertise on magnetars, since they had recently been shown to be excellent NuSTAR targets. Over the subsequent years, I helped to plan how the observations would be made of various types of targets, from magnetars to pulsars and supernova remnants.

Q. What role did you play on the science team?

I have been in charge of coordinating the galactic science program. More recently we formed working groups, and I’m now Chair of the Magnetar and Rotation-Powered Pulsar working group, as well as involved in several others. I also help out in various capacities, for example reviewing science plans in areas other than my own.

Q. Describe the importance of this telescope to you and your research?

NuSTAR will be wonderful for studying magnetars, which are the most highly magnetized neutron stars (indeed objects of any kind) known in the Universe. As I have done a lot of work on these objects, I’m really looking forward to getting a whole new view of them in the hard X-ray band to which NuSTAR is sensitive. I’m also involved in several other planned observations of various types of sources, particularly different types of neutron stars.

I’m very excited by the potential for NuSTAR to make major new discoveries, given that it really is opening a new window onto the high-energy Universe, with a factor of about 100 times greater sensitivity than previous telescopes in the hard X-ray range. You never know what might be out there.