A NICER way to look at neutron stars


NASA’s NICER mission will use X-rays to probe the interior composition of neutron stars, writes Jessica Snir.


NICER’s X-ray concentrator optics are inspected under ultraviolet light for dust or other foreign objects.
NICER’s X-ray concentrator optics are inspected under ultraviolet light for dust or other foreign objects.
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center/Keith Gendreau

Meet NASA’s new mission: the Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer or NICER (which is certainly nicer to read).

This ambitious mission aims to observe the extraordinary environments of some of the strangest objects in the observable universe – neutron stars.

Neutron stars are a type of collapsed star that is incredibly dense: squeezed within a diameter of 20 kilometres or so, a neutron star may hold up to twice the mass of our Sun.

Pictured are NICER’s X-ray concentrator optics which concentrate X-rays onto silicon detectors with the aim of probing the inner fabric of neutron stars (including the rapidly rotating neutron stars known as pulsars).

NICER recently hitched a ride on the Dragon spacecraft as part of SpaceX’s CRS-11 commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station, where it now sits in an orbiting laboratory.

Contrib jess snir.jpg?ixlib=rails 2.1
Jessica Snir is a clinical trial coordinator at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia and Cosmos contributor.
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