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Chandra 101: Overview for Teachers and Students
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A Look at X-Rays

How do X-ray telescopes differ from optical telescopes?
X-rays do not reflect off mirrors the same way that visible light does. Because of their high-energy, X-ray photons penetrate into the mirror in much the same way that bullets slam into a wall. Likewise, just as bullets ricochet when they hit a wall at a grazing angle, so too will x-rays ricochet off mirrors (see diagram below). These properties mean that X-ray telescopes must be very different from optical telescopes.

The mirrors have to be precisely shaped and aligned nearly parallel to incoming x-rays. Thus they look more like barrels than the familiar dish shape of optical telescopes.

X-rays ricochet off mirrors