In February, Japan launched a new X-ray observatory to probe some of the universe’s deepest mysteries.
The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA) ASTRO-H spacecraft launched on Feb. 12 from the Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima, Japan. ASTRO-H is designed to help scientists better understand a wide variety of energetic events throughout the universe, from the evolution of galaxy clusters to powerful supernova explosions, NASA officials said.
The new observatory will be 10 times more sensitive to X-ray light than its Japanese predecessor, the Suzaku spacecraft, which operated between 2005 and 2015. ASTRO-H will study a wide range of high-energy light, NASA officials said.
“We see X-rays from sources throughout the universe, wherever the particles in matter reach sufficiently high energies,” Robert Petre, U.S. project scientist for ASTRO-H said. “These energies arise in a variety of settings, including stellar explosions, extreme magnetic fields, or strong gravity, and X-rays let us probe aspects of these phenomena that are inaccessible by instruments observing at other wavelengths.”
ASTRO-H’s four instruments allow it to study the universe in a broad energy range far beyond the spectrum of visible light.
Astronomers usually spread X-ray light out into a spectrum to learn more about the temperature, motion and composition of X-ray sources. But this technique dilutes the intensity of X-ray “colors,” NASA officials said. ASTRO-H’s instruments should allow researchers to study the light at high intensity and high resolution.
“The technology used in ASTRO-H is leading the way to the next generation of imaging X-ray spectrometers, which will be able to distinguish tens of thousands of X-ray colors while capturing sharp images at the same time,” Caroline Kilbourne, a member of the Goddard SXS team, said.
ASTRO-H will join two other big-ticket space telescopes dedicated to observing the universe in X-ray light — NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton spacecraft, both of which launched in 1999.
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