Center for Space Resesarch

The Center for Space Research (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 launched in 1999, continues to operate flawlessly. Two of its four scientific instruments were built at CSR, the High-Energy Transmission Grating Spectrometer (HETG) (Professor Canizares, Drs. Dewey, Flanagan, Schattenburg) and ACIS, a Charge-Coupled Device (CCD) imaging spectrometer (Drs. Ricker, Bautz, Baganoff, Ford, Grant, Kissel, Mayer, Prigozhin). CSR is also active in the Chandra X-ray Observatory Science Center (CXC), which oversees the operation of CXO (Professor C. Canizares, Drs. Allen, D. Davis, J. Davis, Houck, Huenemoerder, Marshall, Schulz, Wise).

Highlights of high resolution imaging with ACIS include discovery of a rapid, 3-hour, 50-fold X-ray outburst from our Galactic center, providing compelling evidence that the X-ray emission is coming from a supermassive black hole (Drs. Baganoff, Bautz, Ricker); studies of dark matter in clusters of galaxies, confirmation that very massive clusters exist at high redshifts, supporting a low matter-density universe, the first high-angular-resolution X-ray observations of a gravitationally lensed quasar (Drs. Arabadjis, Bautz, Machacek, Ms. Jeltema, Mr. Malm, Mr. Morgan, Professor. Canizares, Schechter); initial studies of the compact object discovered in the supernova remnant Cas A (Professor Chakrabarty); studies of the population of X-ray sources in globular clusters (Mr. Pooley, Professor Lewin), and studies of jets from active galactic nuclei (Dr. Marshall).

High resolution spectra obtained with HETG have been used to probe material around active galactic nuclei, including discovery of dust in the ionized clouds, set limits on the warm component of the intergalactic medium, probe relativistic outflow from a galactic microquasar and spectral features in other X-ray binaries, measure composition and physical conditions in stellar coronae, stellar flares, and winds from hot, young stars, and study the abundances and dynamics of young supernova remnants, and the atmospheres of neutron stars (Drs. Allen, D. Davis, Dewey, Fang, Flanagan, Houck, Huenemoerder, Lee, Marshall, Ogle, Schulz, Wise, Mr. Stage, Professor Canizares).

The orbiting Bruno B. Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer (RXTE), named in honor of the late MIT professor, is now in its sixth year of operations. The light curves of more than 100 X-ray sources from the All-Sky Monitor (ASM, built at CSR) provide a new global view of the nature of the variability of the X-ray sky. Observations of rapid periodic and aperiodic behavior from neutron stars and black holes with the large-area instrument continue probe the physics of these objects and the predictions of General Relativity (Professors H. Bradt, Chakrabarty, Lewin, Drs. Levine, E. Morgan, R. Remillard, Mr. Miller).

A major milestone for CSR was the successful launch of the High Energy Transient Explorer (HETE-2) in October 2000. Built and operated at MIT with US and international collaborators, HETE-2 is dedicated to detect and promptly locate the sources of gamma-ray bursts (GRBs). HETE-2 is now providing positions to the GRB community within seconds of a detected burst, and recently yielded the best measurement of the hard x-ray spectrum of a soft gamma repeater. (Drs. Doty, Crew, Ricker, Vanderspek, Villasenor, Mr. Monnelly).

In radio astronomy at least three new gravitational lenses have been discovered (Prof. Hewitt with Prof Schechter). Hewitt and colleagues at Haystack Observatory continue work on the development of a large low-frequency array, which will also serve as a prototype for the future Square Kilometer Array, with goals of mapping the first structures that formed in the universe.

MIT is a member of the Magellan consortium, which is building two 6.5-meter diameter optical telescopes in Chile. The first of these was dedicated in December 2000, and is now operating. MIT (with Harvard and Carnegie) completed a permanently mounted camera, guider, and wavefront sensing system. The camera has already been used to search for optical counterparts to neutron stars and X-ray bursters, and to study gravitational lenses. The second telescope will begin science operations in October 2002. (Professors Canizares, Chakrabarty, Elliot, Schechter, Sussman, Dr. Osip, Mr. Boughan).

Studies of plasma in the solar wind continue from three spacecraft: IMP 8 and Wind (both near Earth) and Voyager 2 (currently at 65 AU). This past year was near the maximum in solar activity, and many large interplanetary shocks were observed near 1 AU. Studies of shocks associated with solar Coronal Mass Ejections which cause significant magnetic storms on Earth may enhance the storm predictive ability of spacecraft-based monitors. Data from Ulysses and Voyager 2, were used to trace such shocks to the outer heliosphere. A high-time-resolution solar wind experiment on the Triana spacecraft is expected to be launhed within two years.(Drs. Clack, Jurac, Lazarus, McGuirk, Paularena, Richardson, Wang, Professor Belcher, Mr. Kasper).

Data from the Laser Altimeter Instrument (MOLA) aboard the Mars Global Surveyor have been used to assemble a statistical description of changes in polar clouds as a function of the Martian season (Dr. Ford, Professor Pettengill).

CSR initiated design of virtual reality display devices, restraint systems, and software tools for the International Space Station (ISS) Human Research Facility. The system supports "VOILA" (Visuomotor and Orientation Investigations in Long Duration Astronauts), a set of nine flight experiments to be conducted on the ISS in 2002-2005 (Dr. Oman). Undergraduate and graduate students performed parabolic flight experiments to evaluate the "Micro-G" wireless version of Professor Newman's Enhanced Dynamics Load Sensor experiments. Professor Young continued as Director of NASA's National Space Biomedical Research Institute, which doubled in size this past year.

The MIT/Caltech Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) Laboratory is continuing with the commissioning of the 4km-long interferometers at the Hanford, Washington and Livingston, Louisiana sites. Installation is complete and one interferometer at Hanford has successfully operated in the final optical configuration. Initial coincidence measurements will take place in the fall of 2001 for the first end-to-end data analysis effort. A five-year proposal for the continued operation of the Observatory and R&D for next generation instruments by has been submitted to the NSF. (Drs. Fritschel, Shoemaker, Zucker, Professors Katsavounidis, Weiss).

In theoretical cosmology, Professor Bertschinger has developed a new approach to calculating and interpreting anisotropies in the cosmic microwave background radiation and has developed a community code for preparing multiscale initial conditions for cosmological simulations. A model for gamma ray bursts from Kerr black holes formed in extreme supernovae, or hypernovae, in binary systems is being developed (Professor Joss), and other studies of binary system evolution are being continued (Professor Rappaport). A comprehensive model of the radio galaxy Her A has been completed (Professor Morrison), and a class of mesospheric modes has been found that can explain angular momentum transport in accretion disks in a wide range of astrophysical objects (Professor B. Coppi). Dr. Chang has developed an innovative theory of complexity in space plasmas in the Earth's magnetosphere using the concepts of forced and/or self-organized criticality and topological phase transitions.

Looking toward future missions, an initial agreement has been reached with the Japanese Institute for Space and Astronautical Sciences for CCD cameras for the Astro E-2 mission, and proposals have been prepared for several new efforts in X-ray astronomy, gamma ray bursts, UV astronomy, and human space flight (Drs. Bautz, Mayer, Oman, Ricker, Mssrs. Boughan & Goeke, Professors Canizares, Newman, Young). New technology is being developed for advanced X-ray CCD sensors (Drs. Bautz & Ricker, in collaboration with MIT Lincoln Laboratory) and novel X-ray optics (Dr. Schattenburg), with applications targeted to future NASA missions such as the Constellation X mission, the Micro Arcsecond X-ray Imaging Mission (MAXIM), and others. Research in CSR's Space Nanotechnology Laboratory (Dr. Schattenburg) seeks to apply micro and nanofabrication technology to achieve dramatic improvements in lightweight high-resolution optical components including foil-optic mirrors and diffraction gratings. As part of this effort fundamental advancements are being made in nanometer-accuracy lithography and metrology concepts, including fabrication of unique 200 nm-period free standing UV filters now flying on the Medium Energy Neutral Atom camera on the IMAGE satellite, to be launched in TWINS A and B in 2002, 2003, and gratings for NOAA's Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES) missions N, O, P, & Q to be launched in 2002, 2005, 2007, and 2010.

Claude R. Canizares

More information about the Center for Space Research can be found online at

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