Students track, observe damaged Hitomi X-ray satellite and its debris with optical telescope

April 25, 2016, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
Students track, observe damaged Hitomi X-ray satellite and its debris with optical telescope
The Hitomi satellite

Engineering Physics students at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University's Daytona Beach Campus have made several high cadence telescope observations of the recently damaged Hitomi X-ray satellite and several of its debris pieces.

Hitomi, also known as ASTRO-H, was a Japanese X-ray astronomy satellite that was launched in February. The $275 million spacecraft was 46 feet long when deployed and weighed 6,000 lbs. It carried a number of scientific instruments, including a unique device called an X-ray microcalorimeter that was intended to investigate the evolution and large-scale structure of the universe, dark matter distribution, how matter behaves in high-gravity areas like black holes, and other high-energy phenomena.

It experienced a catastrophic event on March 26 during its first test observations 360 miles above the Earth. The U.S. Joint Space Operations Center detected several fragments of debris in the area and Hitomi's orbit suddenly changed.

"As soon as we got news of the suspected breakup, we wanted to observe the fragments with OSCOM, an optical tracking and spectral characterization systemcapable of observing large and small space objects, to see for ourselves how chaotically they were tumbling," said Forrest Gasdia, an Embry-Riddle graduate student in Engineering Physics. "As soon as the skies were clear, Sergei Bilardi [Engineering Physics undergraduate] and I deployed a telescope for the observations."

"The Physical Sciences Department has an impressive array of telescope assets, including a 1-meter (40-inch) Ritchey-Chrétien reflecting telescope, and OSCOM, which was seed funded by a National Science Foundation grant," said Dr. Aroh Barjatya, associate professor and program coordinator of the Engineering Physics program at the Daytona Beach Campus. "All of these assets are readily available for our students majoring in Engineering Physics, which has a strong emphasis on space systems engineering, as well as a new Astronomy and Astrophysics program."

Using OSCOM, the Engineering Physics students have obtained rapid brightness measurements of the satellite and debris fragments tumbling through space. These high-speed measurements—up to 100 samples per second for the main fragment—reveal bright reflections of solar light caused by different parts of Hitomi. The data show a strong and consistent flash pattern with a period of 2.6 seconds. Further details about the OSCOM system, more photometry results, and observation videos can be found on the

Explore further: Japan's black hole telescope is in trouble

Related Stories

Japan's black hole telescope is in trouble

March 30, 2016

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 ...

Recommended for you

First to red planet will become Martians: Canada astronaut

September 22, 2018

Astronauts traveling through space on the long trip to Mars will not have the usual backup from mission control on Earth and will need to think of themselves as Martians to survive, Canada's most famous spaceman half-jokingly ...

Three NASA missions return first-light data

September 21, 2018

NASA's continued quest to explore our solar system and beyond received a boost of new information this week with three key missions proving not only that they are up and running, but that their science potential is exceptional. ...

Dwarf companion to EPIC 206011496 detected by astronomers

September 20, 2018

Using ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT), European astronomers have uncovered the presence of an M-dwarf around the star EPIC 206011496. The newly found object is more than 60 percent less massive than our sun and is bounded ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.