Astronomy Today

X-Ray Space Telescopes

How does an X-ray telescope work?

X-rays are so powerful that they tend to pierce right through typical telescope mirrors if they strike them head-on. Therefore, X-ray telescopes use nested layers of “grazing-incidence mirrors” that reflect X-rays along very shallow angles. The need for grazing incidence optics makes X-ray telescopes very challenging to design. (Compared to optical telescopes, they often look like they are pointed backward!) Furthermore, X-rays do not go through the atmosphere well, so all X-ray telescopes must be space telescopes. The scientific reward, however, is well worth the difficulty of building them. X-ray telescopes afford astronomers an opportunity to study directly some of the most energetic phenomena in the universe, like novae, supernovae, pulsars, and black holes.


This is a web preview of the "The Handy Astronomy Answer Book" app. Many features only work on your mobile device. If you like what you see, we hope you will consider buying. Get the App