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High Energy Astrophysics (HEA)

The Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian High Energy Astrophysics division focuses on X-ray astronomy and instrumentation involved in observations of high-energy sources. This research aims to address the physical processes involved in generating X-rays, the amount of matter in the Universe, and the origin, evolution, and ultimate fate of the Universe.

The High Energy Astrophysics Division's main focus is on X-ray astronomy via observations of high-energy sources with instruments aboard satellites, rockets, balloons, and the Space Shuttle. The Division also develops new instrumentation for future space missions to address the physical processes involved in generating X-rays, the amount of matter in the Universe, and the origin, evolution, and ultimate fate of the Universe.

X-ray astronomy has a short history, but has made rapid progress. Not until 1962 was the first X-ray source outside the Solar System - Scorpius X-1 - detected by a group led by Riccardo Giacconi. Giacconi's group went on to build the first X-ray astronomy satellite, UHURU. Giacconi moved his group to the newly formed CfA in 1973 to found the High Energy Astrophysics Division (HEA), where they led the team building the first X-ray astronomy satellite to use a mirror to take images of the universe in X-rays, the Einstein Observatory, and was over 100 times more sensitive than any previous mission. Now the Chandra X-ray Observatory continues this record, giving the most detailed images of the X-ray sky ever taken. Chandra detects sources 1 billion times fainter than Scorpius X-1, and locates them 10 billion times more precisely. A program in solar X-ray astronomy, started by Pippo Vaiana, made similarly great strides.

The Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian High Energy Astrophysics (HEA) division was founded in 1973 through the merging of high-energy scientists at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory with a new group led by Dr. Riccardo Giacconi (Nobel Prize in Physics, 2002). Over the past 40 years, HEA has grown from a group of about 10 scientists to a combined staff of approximately 300, with 90 scientists and 30 postdoctoral fellows. Additionally, The CfA’s HEA division operates Chandra, NASA’s flagship X-ray Observatory.