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NASA Announces Contest to Name X-Ray Observatory

April 16, 1998

RELEASE: 98-63

NASA is searching for a new name for the Advanced X-ray Astrophysics Facility (AXAF), currently scheduled for launch Dec. 3, 1998, from the Space Shuttle Columbia. AXAF is the third of NASA's Great Observatories, after the Hubble Space Telescope and the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory. Once in orbit around Earth, it will explore hot, turbulent regions in the universe where X-rays are produced.

Dr. Alan Bunner, director of NASA's Structure and Evolution of the universe science program, will announce April 18 at the National Science Teacher's Association meeting in Las Vegas, NV, the start of a contest, open to people worldwide, to find a new name for the observatory.

Entries should contain the name of a person (not living), place, or thing from history, mythology, or fiction. Contestants should describe in a few sentences why this choice would be a good name for AXAF. The name must not have been used before on space missions by NASA or other organizations or countries.

The grand prize will be a trip to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, FL, to see the launch of the satellite aboard the Space Shuttle. Ten runner-up prizes will be awarded and all entrants will receive an AXAF poster.

The grand prize is sponsored by TRW Inc., AXAF's prime contractor. The AXAF Science Center in Cambridge, MA, will run the contest for NASA. NASA will announce the final selection of the winning name later this year.

Entries also can be mailed to: AXAF Contest, AXAF Science Center, Office of Education and Public Outreach, 60 Garden Street, MS 83, Cambridge, MA 02138. Mailed entries must be postmarked no later than June 30, 1998. All entries must state a name for the mission, along with the reason the name would make a good choice.

The observatory, now in the final stages of assembly and testing at TRW's facility in Redondo Beach, CA, is more than 45 feet long and weighs 10,500 pounds. AXAF is the largest and most powerful X-ray observatory ever constructed, and its images will be more than ten times sharper than any previous X-ray telescope. This focusing power of the telescope is equivalent to the ability to read a newspaper at a distance of half a mile.

Cosmic X-rays are produced by violent events, such as when stars explode or galaxies collide. X-rays also are emitted by matter heated to many millions of degrees as it swirls toward a black hole. The only way to observe these and other extremely hot astronomical sources is with a space-based X-ray telescope.

Editor's Note (Dec 21, 1998):
How the Chandra X-ray Observatory got its name: See the press release.


Donald Savage
Headquarters, Washington, DC
(Phone: 202/358-1727)

Dave Drachlis
Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, AL
(Phone: 205/544-0034)

Wallace Tucker
AXAF Science Center
Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory
Cambridge, MA
(Phone: 760/728-7103)