Technology & Science

ASTRO-H telescope launches to offer new views of black holes

A Japanese space telescope with X-ray vision sharpened by Canadian technology has launched successfully into space, and will be soon offering unprecedented views of objects like supernovas and black holes.

Japanese X-ray telescope with Canadian technology renamed 'Hitomi' after successful launch

X-ray observatory will study black holes and other space phenomena 1:12

Japan launched an H-2A rocket carrying a new generation X-ray astronomical observation satellite on Wednesday to study black holes and other celestial objects that cannot be studied using light. The telescope includes technology developed in Canada that helps it see an extraordinarily wide range of x-ray "colours."

The two-stage H-2A carrier vehicle was successfully launched from the Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture, southwestern Japan, at 1745 local time (3:45 a.m. ET).

It released the Astro-H satellite to put it into orbit about 580 kilometres from the surface of the Earth, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said.

As part of the launch, the telescope also received a new name — Hitomi, which means "eye."

 The launch was originally scheduled for last Friday, but was postponed due to bad weather.

The space observatory Astro-H is equipped with a cutting edge X-ray micro-calorimeter, which observes a wide range of X-rays from space with the world's top-level spectral capability.

Three other detectors on board allow high sensitivity observations in a wide bandwidth spanning soft X-ray to the softest Gamma-ray, JAXA said in a news release.

Developed from an international collaboration including Japan, NASA and the Canadian Space Agency, Astro-H will begin fully-fledged observations as early as the summer.

It will help scientists survey black holes and distant galaxies in an attempt to unveil the mysteries surrounding the evolution of the universe, JAXA's release said.

The hard X-ray detectors are mounted on the end of an arm six metres long that will slide out of the telescope's body. The Canadian-made CAMS system uses lasers and detectors to measure the amount and direction the boom moves, and correct the image to make it sharp again. (Canadian Space Agency)

Canada's contribution is Canadian ASTRO-H Metrology System, which sharpens up images that would otherwise be blurry. It does that by using lasers and detectors to correct for the movement of a boom used to support the two ends of the extremely long detectors needed to see the highest-energy x-rays.The CAMS system was built by Ottawa-based Neptec in consultation with the Canadian researchers.


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