New Satellite “Hitomi” (Pupil of the Eye) Observes Wider X-ray Universe

Japan successfully launched an H-2A rocket carrying the next generation of X-ray space observatory into orbit on Wednesday


Space news (February 17, 2016) – The Yoshinobu Launch Complex at Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture in southwestern Japan –  

Anxious astronomers, engineers, and scientists in Japan, Canada and NASA headquarters watched nervously Wednesday as a two-stage H-2A carrier vehicle carrying years of their work and dedication rose slowly from Tanegashima Space Center in Japan.


The H-2A rocket carried the next generation of X-ray space observatory “Hitomi”, formerly known as the Astro-H satellite, to its launch point 580 kilometers above the surface of the Earth.

We see X-rays from sources throughout the universe, wherever the particles in matter reach sufficiently high energies,” said Robert Petre, chief of Goddard’s X-ray Astrophysics Laboratory and the U.S. project scientist for ASTRO-H. “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.”

As part of the launching of Astro-H, the satellite had been recently renamed “Hitomi”, which means “pupil of the eye” in Japanese. Using this eye-in-the-sky, astronomers around the world will study neutron stars, galaxy clusters and black holes in a wider bandwidth of x-rays from soft X-ray to the softest Gamma-ray.

This has been an extraordinary undertaking over many years to build this powerful new X-ray spectrometer jointly in the U.S. and Japan,” said Goddard’s Richard Kelley, the U.S. principal investigator for the ASTRO-H collaboration. “The international team is extremely excited to finally be able to apply the fundamentally new capabilities of the SXS, supported by the other instruments on the satellite, to observations of a wide range of celestial sources, especially clusters of galaxies and black hole systems.”

“Hitomi” is the sixth in a series of X-ray astronomy satellites designed and engineered by Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA) Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS). All of the satellites in the series have been extremely successful X-ray observatories that have contributed to human knowledge of the cosmos. The latest satellite to launch into space is expected to offer breakthroughs in understanding and knowledge of the evolution of the largest structures observed in the cosmos.  

Canada’s connection to “Hitomi” is the Canadian ASTRO-H Metrology System (CAMS), which sharpens blurry images using lasers and detectors to correct for the movement of the boom used to support the ends of the extremely long detectors on the satellite. Needed to observe the highest-energy x-rays, the CAMS system was built in consultation with Canadian scientists and researchers by Ottawa-based Neptec.

The technology used in the SXS 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,” said Caroline Kilbourne, a member of the Goddard SXS team.

Hitomi starts work

Ultimately “Hitomi” was designed, engineered and launched by the three partners in this venture to conduct a survey of black holes and distant galaxies. They will use the results of the survey to help lift the veil of mystery surrounding the evolution of the most mysterious celestial objects in the cosmos. This is just the start of the space mission of “Hitomi”, once this initial mission concludes, we expect the newest automated-envoy of the human journey to the beginning of space and time to offer insights into the way matter acts in extreme gravitational fields, study the rotation of spinning black holes and the internal structure of neutron stars, and the dynamics and detailed physics of relativistic jets during its mission.

You can follow the space mission of “Hitomi” here.

Learn more about the things we learn about the cosmos each day here.

Learn more about Japan’s Institute of Space and Astronautical Science.

Learn more about the future space missions of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. 

Read about the recent observation of gravitational waves by astronomers.

Learn about the things astronomers discovered recently about young, newborn stars.

Learn more about the things NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is telling us about Pluto and its moons.

Mankind’s Next Great Step into the Cosmos

The James Webb Space Telescope Takes Mankind to the Edge of Infinity

The James Webb Space Telescope Journeys to the Beginning of Space and Time

The study of astronomy takes astronomers to places undreamed of in human consciousness

Astronomy News – Mankind’s Journey to the Beginning of Space and Time is about to voyage into unknown areas of the universe in search of answers to questions that were in the minds of the first-star gazers. Why are we here? Are we alone in the universe or is life abundant? Plans to launch the James Webb Space Telescope into orbit in 2014, or earlier in 2015, are still on target, and this telescope will allow mankind to delve into regions of the universe and look for answers to these questions and more technical questions. The largest telescope ever constructed by mankind, the James Webb Space Telescope is slowly beginning to take shape in three NASA space centers around the United States.

A combined effort between the Canadian space agencies, NASA, and the European Space Agency, the James Webb Space Telescope is designed to allow us to view the universe in ways never before experienced by humankind. Once launched into space the James Webb Space Telescope will maneuver into position orbiting the second Lagrange point of the Earth-Sol system, L2. This position in the solar system is just one of five locations where the gravitational pull of the Earth is equal to Sol’s. At this remote location a service call by astronauts is definitely out of the question and budget limits of the program. The James Webb Space Telescope simply must work upon arriving on station at L2, without the possibility of servicing by astronauts.

The absolute need for the James Webb Telescope to operate without a hitch upon arriving on station, and the facts learned during the deployment of the Hubble Space Telescope, has convinced the designers and engineers working on the James Webb Space Telescope that a new testing program is needed to ensure every component in the James Webb Telescope works as designed, before being launched into orbit. Over in the gigantic thermal-vacuum test chamber of the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas technicians are currently preparing to begin tests designed to test the entire optical train of the James Webb Space Telescope. They want to ensure the optical system of the telescope operates as a single unit in a vacuum and at the correct operating temperature for optimum performance of the optical systems. In January, engineers started testing six of the primary mirror segments of the James Webb Space Telescope, to ensure everything is as it should be. By the end of 2014 engineers should be nearing completion of the James Webb Space Telescope’s 18 mirror segments, and all flight instrumentation should be tested and ready to go.

These mirror segments are currently undergoing testing by NASA technicians

The James Webb Space Telescope will take mankind on the next leg of the human journey to the beginning of space and time

Once on location at L2, the James Webb Space Telescope will fully deploy its 18 hexagonal, gold-coated mirror segments to form a primary mirror with an effective diameter of 6.6 meters (259 inches). This is a full 6 times the light-collecting area of the Hubble Space Telescope, but the designers and engineers have also added systems driven by software that will analysis the incoming image, and allow astronomers to fine tune the view by controlling the mirrors overall shape.

Out orbiting L2, the James Webb Space Telescope will be far from problematic heat sources, and with a tennis-court sized sunshade shielding the telescope from Sol, the heat-sensitive instrumentation of the telescope will cool passively in the cold darkness of space and time, to the required operating temperature of -388 degrees Fahrenheit (-233 Celsius).

Astronomers believe the first stars created after the Big Bang possessed as much as 100 times Sol’s current mass, shine millions of times brighter than Sol, but only lived a few million years, before exploding in the first supernovae. The James Webb Space Telescope will be capable of allowing mankind to Journey to within about 180 million years after the Big Bang if astronomers are correct, and possibly view the first moments of the universe in space terms. Astronomers will also use the James Webb Space Telescope to view celestial objects that have been exciting the human imagination since they were first discovered in the time of the first-star gazers. Astronomers are currently preparing for the beginning of the era of the James Webb Space Telescope. They’ll soon be proposing all kinds of Journeys to the Beginning of Space and Time that will hopefully provide a few answers to these questions that have been exciting mankind since the first time a human looked upward into the night sky.

Thousands of people have contributed to the designing, engineering and eventual launch into orbit of the James Webb Space Telescope

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