Japan's black hole telescope is in trouble

Japan’s black hole telescope is in trouble
An artist's drawing of Japan's Hitomi observatory. Credit: JAXA/Akihiro Ikeshita

The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has lost contact with its X-ray Astronomy Satellite Hitomi (ASTRO-H.) Hitomi was launched on February 17th, for a 3-year mission to study black holes. But now that mission appears to be in jeopardy.

Hitomi is a collaboration between JAXA and NASA. Its mission was to investigate how were formed and influenced by dark matter and , and to understand how form and evolve at the center of galaxies. Hitomi was also to "unearth the governing extreme conditions in and ," according to JAXA.

Japan has managed two very short communications with Hitomi, but they were very brief, and JAXA has not been able to determine the nature of the problem. Now, JSpOC, the US Joint Space Operations Center, say they have detected debris in the vicinity of Hitomi, and in a press release this morning (March 29th), JAXA says "it is estimated that Hitomi separated to five pieces at about 10:42 a.m."

Hitomi was going to be an important contribution to the fleet of space telescopes used by astrophysicists and cosmologists. It has a cutting edge instrument called the X-ray micro-calorimeter, which would have observed X-rays from space with the greatest sensitivity of any instrument so far. If all that is lost, it will be quite a blow.

There's no definitive word yet on what exactly has happened to Hitomi. Japan is using ground stations in different parts of the world to try to communicate with their observatory. It's important to note that there is no agreement that the craft has broken apart. The press releases are translations from Japanese to English, so the exact meaning of "separated to five pieces" is unclear.

It's possible that there was a small explosion of some sort, and that some debris from that explosion is in the vicinity of Hitomi. It's also possible that JAXA will re-establish communications with the craft as time goes on.

Other observatories have suffered serious problems, and have eventually been brought back under control and completed their missions. The ESA/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) suffered serious problems at the beginning of its mission in 1995, entering emergency mode 3 times before all contact was lost. Eventually, SOHO was brought under control, and what was supposed to be a 2-year mission has lasted 20.

Universe Today will be following this story to see if Hitomi can be made operational. For readers wanting to know more about Hitomi's , read JAXA's excellent Hitomi press kit.

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Source: Universe Today
Citation: Japan's black hole telescope is in trouble (2016, March 30) retrieved 20 May 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2016-03-japan-black-hole-telescope.html
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User comments

Mar 31, 2016
Space aliens or Chicoms? Neither particularly like the Japanese.

Apr 01, 2016
That is the verrry LAST time that the Japanese or anyone else is gonna name a satellite "HIT..ME"!

Apr 02, 2016
It is only 575km high, so it is possible to create some kind of servicing satellite, even a manned one, to go fix it. Such a repair craft should be powered with appropriate real space propulsion of the solar electric kind, maybe an ''em-drive" ship that needs no fuel and can go anywhere but down deep gravity wells. Such a ship could ideally have a base on the International Space Station. More probable the Chinese would build it for they seem to have more open minds less joined at the hip with our runaway greedy petro-chemical industry.

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