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Reflected glory: moon shines in X-rays.

Reflected glory: Moon shines in X-rays

Nearly three decades after their initial attempt, astronomers have obtained the first X-ray image of the moon. The crescent outline of the first-quarter moon -- glimpsed through one of two telescopes aboard ROSAT, the German-British research satellite launched by NASA on June 1 -- glows brightly as it reflects x-rays striking its surface from the sun's corona. The dark side of the moon blocks diffuse X-ray background radiation, visible in this 1,000-second exposure as white dots in the surrounding sky area. The X-ray background, believed to come from distant sources, shows a uniform distribution.

ROSAT scientist Ken Pounds, of the University of Leicester in England, says X-ray images of the solar system may one day become commonplace as astronomers begin "prospecting"--detailing the chemical components of planets and asteroids by bouncing X-ray beams off their surfaces and analyzing the reflected radiation with space-borne detectors. This lunar image, released late last month, is one of the first produced by ROSAT as the craft maps sources throughout the universe that emit X-rays and extreme ultraviolet radiation -- wavelengths that cannot penetrate Earth's atmosphere.

Astronomers first tried to capture the moon's X-ray image in 1962 with a rocket-borne instrument. ROSAT's sky survey began July 30 and is expected to continue through January 1991; the satellite will then focus on individual targets for the remainder of its seven- to 10-year mission.
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Publication:Science News
Date:Sep 15, 1990
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