NASA launches CHESS mission to study matter between stars

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has successfully launched CHESS mission to study the interstellar medium, the matter between stars. The space between distant stars is not empty. It contains drifts of vast clouds of neutral atoms and molecules.

Apr 18, 2018 18:18 IST
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The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on April 17, 2018 successfully launched Colorado High-resolution Echelle Stellar Spectrograph (CHESS 4) from the Kwajalein Atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands.

The mission launched on a NASA Black Brant IX sounding rocket will study the interstellar medium, the matter between stars.

What is the matter between the stars?

The space between distant stars is not empty. It contains drifts of vast clouds of neutral atoms and molecules, as well as charged plasma particles called the interstellar medium, which may, over millions of years, evolve into new stars and even planets.


The CHESS mission would mainly focus on these floating interstellar reservoirs or translucent clouds of gas, which provide the fundamental building blocks for the stars and planets.

The clouds are known to have very low densities and the only way to study them is to measure how a cloud is affected by a star and its associated outpouring of stellar material, the stellar wind -moving through it.

Key Highlights

• The CHESS 4 instrument was developed by the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

• The mission will study the interaction of the stellar wind with the surrounding interstellar medium to study the excitation of atoms and molecules in the interface region.

• This would enable the researchers to study the catalysts of galactic chemistry and the raw materials for future generations of stars and planets.

• The research team will also quantify the temperature and motions of the clouds along the line of sight.

• The new version of CHESS also features an updated instrument – a re-tuned spectrograph – which will provide approximately 4-5 times higher spectral resolution than previous launches.

• The higher resolution will be ideal for observing the excited molecules against the background signal generated by the interstellar medium.



• NASA had planned to launch two astronomy experiments to study how stars are born and how they die in the Milky Way galaxy in April 2018.

• The first experiment, the Water Recovery X-ray rocket (WRX) was launched on April 4, 2018.

• The second experiment was the Colorado High-resolution Echelle Stellar Spectrograph (CHESS 4).

• Both experiments were flown on the NASA Black Brant IX sounding rockets.

About WRX mission

• The mission targets the Vela supernova remnant and measures soft X-rays emanating from the region.

• The Vela supernova remnant was created when a star, 10 times greater than the mass of the Sun, collapsed and then exploded as a supernova, the final stage of massive stellar evolution.

• Supernova explosions are one of the most energetic events in the universe, and play a role in recycling material within galaxies.

• The explosions are responsible for the creation and distribution of elements such as, oxygen, silicon, neon, iron, nickel, and magnesium among others into the interstellar medium, thereby providing source material for the next generation of stars, planets and even organic chemistry.

• The explosions are rarely seen in action in our galaxy, but the evidence is left behind as a supernova remnant.

• The material ejected during the explosion travels at high speed and the shockwave sweeps up interstellar material along the way, continuing to heat it to temperatures as high as 10 million Kelvin.

• These hot temperatures lead to emission of high energy electromagnetic radiation, such as X-rays, from the remnant.

Significance of the mission

The WRX measurements will allow scientists to derive information about the conditions in the Vela supernova remnant such as the temperature, density, chemical composition and ionization state.

Using these characteristics, the scientists will be able to estimate the shock velocity near the remnant’s limb, the age and type of the remnant, and the energy of the supernova.

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