Halifax scientist off to Japan for Astro-H satellite launch

Saint Mary's University astronomer Luigi Gallo leads the Canadian portion of the space telescope being launched in Japan next week.

Saint Mary's University astronomer Luigi Gallo leads the Canadian portion of the space telescope

An illustration from NASA shows a supermassive black hole in the nearby spiral galaxy NGC 1365. (NASA/Associated Press)

Halifax astronomer Luigi Gallo's decade-long work on a project is about to be launched in space. 

"I feel like a little kid waiting for Christmas. It's so exciting," Gallo told CBC Nova Scotia's Mainstreet Friday.

Gallo is the principal investigator for the Canadian portion of an international project culminating next week in the launch of a space telescope from Japan. 

"We're going to see the instrument that we've put so much effort into — so much time and care into — and we're going to put it on the back of a rocket and launch it into space," he said.

"It's a pretty hostile environment up there."

The project involves the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency, NASA, the European Space Agency, the Canadian Space Agency — and Gallo, an astronomy and physics professor at Halifax's Saint Mary's University.

Like seeing shades within a rainbow

The Canadian scientists involved have developed a special laser alignment system, which will allow the telescope — nicknamed Astro-H — to take up close photos. 

"It's kind of like seeing very, very fine, very detailed shades within the colours of a rainbow," Gallo said.

The goal is to study the structure of the universe — such as how black holes are made — and physics in extreme conditions. 

"The idea that blacks holes swallow everything and suck up everything around them isn't actually true," said Gallo, who specializes in supermassive ones.

"Black holes actually spew out a lot of material." 

'We quite literally are stardust'

The telescope will start producing data in six months, he said, after it's been calibrated and tested. He hopes it'll show the "unexpected," as well as prove some theories the scientists have. 

"It gives us an idea of where we're coming from," Gallo said. "We quite literally are stardust."

Astro-H launches in the early morning of February 12 at the Tanegashima Space Center by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, which will be livestreamed. Gallo will be in Japan for the big event.


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