Physics professor Ed Cackett contributes to historic NASA research

Wayne State astronomy professor Ed Cackett was one of only 60 researchers chosen to serve on the science team for NASA's NICER project. NICER (Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer) will measure neutron stars and test for the first time in space technology that uses pulsars as navigation beacons.

Cackett was invited to Cape Canaveral, Florida to watch the launch of CRS-11 the commercial resupply mission shuttle travelling to the International Space Station.

CRS-11 was the 100th launch from Launch Pad 39A, the same launch pad where the Apollo missions took off from. Cackett was in attendance for presentations from NASA's Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot as well as the Director of Kennedy Space Center (and former astronaut) Robert Cabana. Buzz Aldrin was also in attendance for the launch.

"Unfortunately, as we were preparing to watch the launch, thunder and lightning occurred within 10 miles of the pad. The launch was rescheduled a couple of days later and I couldn't stay to view it," Cackett said. While the inclement weather may have rained on the parade, Cackett is excited to dig into the data the mission will provide.

According to Cackett, one teaspoon of neutron star would weigh four billion tons. "Neutron stars are some of the most extreme objects in the universe. They weigh about 1.4 times the mass of the sun, yet are only the size of a city (about 10 km radius), so the material inside a neutron star is extremely dense. We don't know exactly what happens to matter when it gets crushed to these extremes."

Cackett says the primary aim of NICER is to learn what happens to matter when it is under such extreme conditions. He is looking forward to analyzing the data collected from NICER.

Written by Alexandra Leroux, Marketing & Communications Associate

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