MIT Reports to the President 1999–2000


CSR conducts active research in astronomy, astrophysics, space science, space engineering and related technology, and participates in various National Aeronautical and Space Administration (NASA) flight missions. Specific areas of research include gravity-wave, X-ray, optical, radio, and radar astronomy; theoretical and experimental space plasma physics; planetary surfaces and atmospheres; and the space life sciences. CSR is heavily involved in several ongoing or upcoming NASA missions and supports MIT participation in several major research facilities. Research conducted in CSR is reported by the departments of Physics, Earth Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, and Aeronautics and Astronautics.


The Chandra X-ray Observatory (CXO) a major NASA mission of the "great observatory" series, was launched in July 1999. Two of its four scientific instruments were built at CSR, the High-Energy Transmission Grating Spectrometer (HETG) (Prof. C. Canizares, Drs. D. Dewey, K. Flanagan, M. Schattenburg, P. Ogle, J. Lee) and ACIS, a Charge-Coupled Device (CCD) imaging spectrometer (Drs. G. Ricker, M. Bautz, F. Baganoff, P. Ford, C. Grant, S. Kissel, W. Mayer, G. Prigozhin). Both are operating well. CSR is also active in the Chandra X-ray Observatory Science Center (CXC), which oversees the operation of CXO (Prof. C. Canizares, Drs. G. Allen, D. Davis, J. Houck, D. Huenemoerder, H. Marshall, D. Schultz, M. Wise).

The ACIS team has obtained high-resolution images of a variety of sources. Highlights to date include: detection of a X-ray source of remarkably low luminosity at position of the Galactic Center; detection of X-ray emission from distant (redshift 1< z < 3), gravitationally-lensed galaxies; and possible detection of X-ray variability in a gravitationally-lensed quasar. (Professors Bradt, Canizares, Schechter and Rappaport; Drs. Baganoff, Bautz, Ricker)

The HETG/CXC team has obtained the first high resolution X-ray spectra of several stellar coronae, supernova remnants (SNR), X-ray binaries and active galactic nuclei (AGN). Highlights include measures of the expansion velocities in an oxygen rich SNR and a probe of the ionized gas surrounding a massive black hole in an AGN. Chandra observations detected X-rays from two recent supernovae, one of them within weeks of the explosion. (Professor W. Lewin)

The orbiting Bruno B. Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer (RXTE), named in honor of the late MIT professor, continues to obtain exciting results in its fifth year of operations. The All-Sky Monitor (ASM, built at CSR) records the long-term intensity variations in some 100 cosmic X-ray sources, mostly binary star systems containing a neutron star or black hole. Some other sources are at the centers of galaxies and are thought to be massive black holes. Multiple instruments have been used to conduct detailed studies of transient binary systems containing a neutron star or a black hole to probe effects of General Relativity, to probe regions of intense magnetic fields, and to understand binary star evolution. (Professor H. Bradt, D. Chakrabarty, S. Rappaport, Drs. Levine, E. Morgan, R. Remillard, W. Cui) RXTE discovered iron line emission with variable redshift from a binary indicating emission from the innermost stable orbit around a maximally rotating Kerr black hole. (Prof. W. Lewin) CSR's CCD X-ray detectors (developed in collaboration with Lincoln Laboratory) continue to operate well on the Japanese ASCA satellite and similar detectors were delivered to Japan for integration into the Astro-E mission, which unfortunately was lost during launch. (Mr. Foster; Drs. Bautz, Doty, Kissel and Ricker)

In radio astronomy, Professor J. Hewitt’s program (with Professor P. Schechter) has resulted in one, and perhaps as many as three, new gravitational lenses. Also, a new measurement of the distance to a lens system is one more contribution to world-wide efforts to constrain cosmological models. Hewitt and colleagues at Haystack Observatory have joined a collaboration to develop a large low-frequency array, which will also serve as a prototype for the future Square Kilometer Array. A scientific goal of the MIT group is the mapping of the first structures in neutral hydrogen that formed in the universe after recombination. Professor V. Kaspi continues participating in a very successful survey of radio pulsars that has already found 400 new pulsars in the southern Galactic plane.

MIT is a member of the Magellan Project consortium, which is building two 6.5-meter diameter optical telescopes on Cerro Las Camapanas in Northern Chile, the first being completed next year. MIT and Harvard are collaborating on building a camera to be permanently mounted on the first telescope. Also MIT is collaborating with Carnegie to build the facility guiders. (Professors C. Canizares, J. Elliot, P. Schechter and G. Sussman; Dr. D. Osip, E. Boughan)

The interplanetary plasma group monitors solar wind conditions from three spacecraft, two near Earth (IMP 8 and WIND) and one over 60 Astronomical Units away (Voyager 2) in the outer solar system (Professor J. Belcher, Drs. A. Lazarus, J. Richardson, M. Aellig, Ms. K. Paularena). These satellites continue monitoring "space weather" events, such as Coronal Mass Ejections, which can affect satellites, terrestrial communications and electric power grids.

During the past year, the Laser Altimeter Instrument (MOLA) aboard the Mars Global Surveyor orbiter has continued its nearly continuous observations of echoes from the surface or, where they are sufficiently dense, clouds above the surface of Mars. Professor G. Pettengill and Dr. P. Ford have assembled a statistical description of the occurrence and morphology of the polar clouds as a function of the Martian season. Of particular interest is the observation of the transport velocity of individual storms.

The MIT/Caltech Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) project is well into the commissioning phase, and coincidence measurements between the sites in Hanford, Washington and Livingston, Louisiana are planned for 2001. The first optical resonant cavities over kilometer baselines were operated in late 1999, and the characterization of the lasers, optics, and mechanical systems is underway at both sites. In parallel, the international LIGO Science Collaboration has developed algorithms for data analysis, and advanced plans for a next generation interferometer. (Professor R. Weiss, Drs. P. Fritschel, D. Shoemaker, M. Zucker)

Theoretical investigations include: supercomputer simulations of large scale structure in the universe (Professor E. Bertschinger), the hydrodynamics of binary star coalescence and dynamics of dense star clusters and work on the origins and dynamical evolution of extrasolar planetary systems (Professor F. Rasio); studies of the evolutionary histories of collapsed stars (white dwarfs, neutron stars, and black holes) in binary systems, including cataclysmic variables, low mass X-ray binaries, binary millisecond pulsars, and the effects of binary membership on supernovae (Professor S. Rappaport and P. Joss); and studies of the X-ray halo of the galaxy Hercules A (Professor P. Morrison). Closer to Earth, a new innovative theory of multiscale intermittent turbulence based on the idea of forced and/or self-organized criticality and Topological Phase Transitions has been developed for the description of the Earth's magnetopause magnetotail and auroral plasma dynamics. (Dr. T. Chang)

MIT participates in NASA's National Space Biomedical Research Institute; Prof. L. Young is the first Director and leads a major new research initiative in artificial gravity, and Dr. C. Oman leads NSBRI programs in the Neurovestibular area. Data analysis continues from the neurolab experiments on STS90 and the Enhanced Dynamics Load Sensor experiment flown on MIR. (Dr. C. Oman, Prof. D. Newman)


The High Energy Transient Experiment (HETE), a small satellite being built at CSR to search for gamma ray burst sources, is ready for launch. (Drs. G. Ricker, J. Doty, R. Vanderspeck, G. Crew, J. Villasenor)

Periodic nano-structures fabricated for use as UV filters were launched in January 2000 on the Magnetopause to Aurora Global Exploration (MENA) mission, and similar devices are being prepared for the TWINS missions to follow in 2002 and 2004. (Dr. Schattenburg) An instrument to continuously monitor solar wind ions every on the TRIANA satellite was delivered and is being tested. (Dr. A. Lazarus, J. Richardson) Experiments are being prepared for the International Space Station, including the MICRO-G project to provide advanced force and moment sensors and a virtual reality experiment (Profs. L. Young and D. Newman, Dr. C. Oman) and science leadership for a cell culture unit. (Dr. G. Vunjak-Novakovic) Work on advanced X-ray optics, ultra-smooth reflection gratings and advanced X-ray CCD’s continues. Potential applications include NASA's future Constellation X-ray and MAXIM missions. (Professor C. Canizares, Drs. G. Ricker, M. Bautz, M. Schattenburg, G. Prigozhin, S. Kissel)

More information about this center can be found on the World Wide Web at

Claude R. Canizares

MIT Reports to the President 1999–2000