These Next Generation X-ray Mirrors Could Be Used by NASA to Capture the Universe

Researchers have been developing super-thin, lightweight X-ray mirrors for next-generation X-ray observatories.

Will Zhang and his team at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, have been developing super-thin, lightweight X-ray mirrors for next-generation X-ray observatories. These innovative new mirrors are made of a material usually used to make computer chips.

Zhang's technology has been baselined for the Design Reference Mission of the conceptual Lynx X-ray Observatory. If Zhang's work proves successful, Lynx could use tens of thousands of his mirror segments.

This would result in a two orders-of-magnitude leap in sensitivity over NASA's flagship Chandra X-ray Observatory. Imagine what images could be captured with that!

Zhang started building his special mirrors seven years ago. His goal was to develop easily reproducible quality mirrors to save on cost. 

"What we've done is shown from a scientific perspective and empirically that these optics can be built" using an inexpensive, abundantly available material that is immune from the internal stresses that can change the shape of X-ray mirrors made of glass, the more traditional mirror-making material," Zhang said.

Reviews conducted by a NASA-commissioned panel found that Zhang’s optics are capable of the same image quality as the mirrors flying on Chandra. 

But Zhang said he is still "far, far away from flying our optics." He and his team now have to devise of a method of bonding these mirror segments inside a canister.

"We have a lot to do, and not a lot of time to do it," Zhang said. "This is now an engineering challenge." Good luck Zhang!

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