MIT Reports to the President 1998-99


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 carried out in CSR is reported by the following departments: Physics, Earth Atmospheric & Planetary Sciences, and Aeronautics & Astronautics.


The orbiting Bruno B. Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer (RXTE), named in honor of the late MIT professor, is in its fourth year of successful operations. The All Sky Monitor (ASM, prepared at CSR) records the long-term intensity variations in some 100 X-ray sources. ASM-derived locations of a number of gamma-ray burst sources have played a substantial role in the identification and further study of these enigmatic objects. In-depth investigations of stellar systems containing either a neutron star or black hole probe effects of General Relativity, regions of intense magnetic fields, and binary star evolution (Profs. H. Bradt, D. Chakrabarty, and S. Rappaport, Drs. Levine, E. Morgan, R. Remillard, W. Cui). In related work, a 6.5 msec spin period has been found in the mysterious Rapid Burster and high precision periods determined for two anomalous X-ray pulsars (Profs. W. V. Kaspi & D. Chakrabarty).

CSR's CCD X-ray detectors (developed in collaboration with Lincoln Laboratory) continue to operate well on the Japanese ASCA satellite. X-ray studies of the nearby, young star TW Hya provide clues to the high-energy radiation field of the young Sun at the time of formation of the solar system (Dr. Kastner). Investigations of galaxy clusters, active galactic nuclei, supernnova remnants X-ray binaries, and active stars have also been pursued using data from ASCA and the ROSAT satellites (Prof. C. Canizares, Drs. D. Davis, K. Flanagan, J. Houck, D. Huenemoerder, H. Marshall, D. Schultz and M. Wise).

Prof. J. Hewitt, who also continues to discover new gravitational lens candidates, is leading a new, multi-university consortium to investigate constructing a "Square Kilometer Array" radio telescope, which would be a major new tool for astronomy (also Prof. B. Burke). Prof. V. Kaspi continues participating in a very successful survey of radio pulsars that has already found 400 new pulsars in the southern Galactic plane.

In optical astronomy 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 this year. MIT and Harvard are collaborating on building a camera to be permanently mounted on one of the first telescopes (Profs. C. Canizares, J. Elliot & P. Schechter, Dr. D. Osip).

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) as it approaches the termination shock in the outer solar system. As we approach solar maximum in ~2001, IMP 8 and WIND continue detecting "space weather" events, such as Coronal Mass Ejections, which can affect satellites, terrestrial communications and electric power grids (Prof. J. Belcher, Drs. A. Lazarus, J. Richardson, M. Aellig, Ms. K. Paularena).

Following the successful aerobraking of the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) into low circular polar orbit in February, its Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter (MOLA) instrument has been measuring the surface topography of the entire planet with an average precision of less than a few meters. CSR MOLA team members Prof. G. Pettengill and Dr. P. Ford have been able to observe numerous carbon dioxide clouds that form over the winter south pole, and to compare them with those seen over the north pole last year during the corresponding northern winter season.

The Caltech/MIT Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory project is nearing the end of its construction phase and is beginning the commissioning of the detectors. The detectors are to be operating at design sensitivity in late 2001. During the past year the long evacuated beam tubes at the Hanford, Washington site were degassed by heating and have attained the goal pressures, and similar work is beginning at the Livingston, Louisiana site, as is installation of the first interferometer. Plans for data acquisition and analsysis are being coordinated by a multi-university collaboration (Prof. R. Weiss & Drs. D. Shoemaker, M. Zucker, P. Fritchel).

Theoretical investigations include: supercomputer simulations of large scale structure in the universe (Prof. E. Bertschinger), the hydrodynamics of binary star coalescence and dynamics of dense star clusters (Prof. F. Rasio); work on the origins and dynamical evolution of extrasolar planetary systems (Prof. 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 (Profs. S. Rappaport & P. Joss). Closer to Earth, a new innovative theory of multiscale intermittent turbulence based on the idea of self-organized criticality has been developed for the description of the Earth's magnetotail and auroral plasma dynamics (Dr. T. Chang).

The shuttle flight of Sen. John Glenn included the most recent utilization of "PI in a Box", the on-board expert system to assist astronauts in the conduct of a sleep experiment (Prof. L. Young). MIT is one of seven institutions participating in NASA's new National Space Biomedical Research Institute; Prof. L. Young is the first Director, 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 Chandra X-ray Observatory (CXO) is a major NASA mission of the "great observatory" series, scheduled for launch in summer of 1999. Two of its four scientific instruments were built at CSR, the High-Energy Transmission Grating Spectrometer (Prof. C. Canizares, D. Dewey, K. Flanagan, M. Schattenburg) and the Charge-Coupled Device (CCD) Imaging Spectrometer (Drs. G. Ricker, M. Bautz, S. Kissel, F. Baganoff). CSR is also active in the Chandra X-ray Observatory Science Center, which will oversee the operation of CXO during the mission (Prof. C. Canizares, Drs. D. Davis, D. Dewey, K. Flanagan, J. Houck, D. Huenemoerder, H. Marshall, D. Schultz and M. Wise). Activities in preparation for launch include observation planning, modeling of instrument performance and preparation of data analysis software.

The High Energy Transient Experiment (HETE), a small satellite being built at CSR to search for gamma ray burst sources, is nearing completion for launch in early 2000 (Drs. G. Ricker, J. Doty, R. Vanderspeck, J. Crew). New X-ray CCD cameras are nearly complete for the next Japanese/U.S. mission, Astro-E, also nearing launch (Drs. G. Ricker, J. Doty, M. Bautz, S. Kissel). Periodic nano-structures have been fabricated for use as UV filters on the Magnetopause to Aurora Global Exploration (MENA) mission, due for launch in January 2000 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 second is being prepared for TRIANA (Dr. A. Lazarus).

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 building on Neurolab experience (Profs. L. Young and D. Newman, Dr. C. Oman).

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 mission (Prof. C. Canizares, Drs. G. Ricker, M. Bautz, M. Schattenburg, G. Prigozhin, S. Kissel). This includes studies of a variety of advanced optical components including foil reflectors and diffractors, advanced nanometer-accuracy lithography and metrology concepts, and novel designs for CCD cameras.

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

Claude R. Canizares

MIT Reports to the President 1998-99