A new video uploaded on YouTube in mid-August shows NASA’s NICER instrument strutting its stuff in a highly entertaining demonstration of some serious dance skills, Space reports.
Captured on camera on June 8, NICER’s “cosmic dance” is described by NASA as “the space station twist” and actually represents “the precise choreography” that the instrument performs as its searches for X-ray sources from its perch on top of the International Space Station (ISS).
Short for Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer, NICER was installed aboard the ISS last June with the mission to detect superdense, fast-spinning neutron stars also known as pulsars, by picking up their X-ray emissions.
According to NASA, NICER provides “high-precision measurements of neutron stars — objects containing ultra-dense matter at the threshold of collapse into black holes.”
As the Inquisitr previously reported, the mission scored a big win earlier this year, when NICER spotted an X-ray pulsar within a binary star system with the fastest-ever orbit of just 38 minutes.
One of NICER’s tasks is to measure the size of pulsars — objects that pack more mass than the sun but are squeezed in an area no bigger than a city — to help astronomers find out their internal composition.
But pulsars are not the only thing that catches NICER’s fancy. This high-precision instrument studies all kinds of X-ray sources in outer space, including the nearby star Proxima Centauri, the closest star to our solar system. At the same time, NICER has its eye on X-ray sources in other galaxies as well, scanning the sky in 90-minute-long orbits.
NASA’s NICER Does the Space Station Twist https://t.co/lIo3RNJRXU— Conquest Space (@conquest__space) August 14, 2018
The newly released video is a time-lapse that captures one of these orbits, sped up by 100 times, NASA explains.
“One factor in NICER’s gyrations is the motion of the space station’s solar arrays, each of which extends 112 feet (34 meters). Long before the panels can encroach on NICER’s field of view, the instrument pirouettes to aim its 56 X-ray telescopes at a new celestial target,” state space agency officials.
One noteworthy detail about the short clip is that, at the beginning of the footage, the solar arrays are “parked” to make way for the Soyuz MS-09 capsule that was about to dock with the ISS.
The Russian capsule carrying NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor, German astronaut Alexander Gerst of the European Space Agency, and cosmonaut Sergey Prokopyev of the Russian space agency Roscosmos arrived at the space station on June 8 and kick-started Expedition 56, the Inquisitr reported at the time.
After the Soyuz docks with the ISS, the space station’s solar arrays are seen moving again to catch the sun and convert its rays into energy for the orbiting laboratory.