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NASA names observatory for the late U of C star Chandrasekhar

NASA's newest space observatory, formerly the Advanced X-ray Astrophysics Facility, has been renamed the Chandra X-ray Observatory in honor of Nobel laureate Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, a U of C faculty member for nearly 60 years, who died in August 1995 at age 84. Known as "Chandra," which means "moon" or "luminous" in Sanskrit, he won the Nobel Prize in 1983 for his studies of stellar structure and evolution. NASA held a contest to name the observatory, drawing more than 6,000 entries, 59 of which recommended Chandra.

"Chandrasekhar made fundamental contributions to the theory of black holes and other phenomena that the Chandra X-ray Observatory will study," says NASA Administrator Dan Goldin. "His life and work exemplify the excellence that we can hope to achieve with this great observatory."

First proposed in 1976, the observatory has taken 20 years to build. It will be launched no earlier than mid-May on the space shuttle Columbia, mission STS-93—the first NASA shuttle mission to be commanded by a woman, astronaut Eileen Collins. In space, the Chandra observatory will join NASA's two other orbiting "great observatories": the Hubble Space Telescope, named for Edwin Powell Hubble, AB'10, PhD'17, and the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, named for Nobel laureate Arthur Holly Compton, a member of the Chicago faculty from 1923 to 1945.

Weighing more than 5 tons and measuring more than 45 feet in length, the Chandra observatory cost $1.3 billion and will be the largest satellite Columbia has ever launched.

Using the world's most powerful X-ray telescope, the observatory will help scientists understand the structure and evolution of the universe by examining X-rays emanating from objects such as white dwarfs, neutron stars, and matter falling into black holes.

U of C professors Donald Lamb and Robert Rosner will use the observatory to study the production of X-rays by compact stars and to compare stars' X-ray emissions to similar emissions from the sun. The two, along with Cole Miller; Peter Freeman, SM'90, PhD'97; and Vinay Kashyap, SM'93, PhD'94 (now a member of the Chandra observatory science team), helped design and test the telescope's data-analysis software.

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