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NASA Announces Plans To Explore Neutrons Stars - The Zombies Of Space

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Apr 06, 2013 04:49 PM EDT
NICER
This artist’s rendition shows the NICER/SEXTANT payload that NASA recently selected as its next Explorer Mission of Opportunity. The 56-telescope payload will fly on the International Space Station. (Photo : NASA)

Apparently even NASA can't avoid the zombie craze: the agency announced their selection of programs for launch in 2017 on Friday and one of them is the Neutron-star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER).

Neutron stars have long carried the nickname "zombies of the cosmos" due to the fact that they shine despite technically being dead, and have the rude tendency of eating their neighbors should they venture too close. However, in terms of really understanding the celestial objects roughly the size of New York City, this is about as far as it gets for scientists.

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"A neutron star is right at the threshold of matter as it can exist - if it were compressed any further, it would collapse completely on itself and become a black hole," said Zaven Arzoumanian, a NASA Goddard scientist the the deputy principal investigator on the mission. "We have no way of creating or studying this matter in any laboratory."

Thus by funding NICER, NASA is providing for what will likely be a series of ground-breaking discoveries should everything go according to plan.

But it doesn't stop there.

The mission, as it turns out, is two-fold. Not only will it allow unprecedented access to Neutron stars, but the explorer itself will employ what NASA says is a groundbreaking navigation technology capable of revolutionizing the ability to travel to the "far reaches of the solar system and beyond."

Specifically, scientists hope to prove the viability of using pulsars as a sort of lighthouse in order to guide the explorer through space - a phenomenon made possible through the exactness with which pulsars give off light.

In all, it will consist of 56 X-ray telescopes, their associated silicone detectors, and what NASA calls in a press release "a number of other advanced technologies." 

In the end, the resulting product will be about the side of a dormitory refrigerator and will fly as an externally-attached payload on the International Space Station.

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