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New Satellite from Japan Has X-Ray Vision to Probe the Mysteries of the Cosmos

First Posted: Feb 23, 2016 07:25 AM EST

A new satellite has been equipped with superior X-ray vision. A new space mission, focused on revealing the extreme environments of space, has officially been launched by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

The new mission comes in the form of the ASTRO-H satellite, which has a very precise and sensitive eye for X-rays emerging from hot and energetic processes in space. After launch, the spacecraft was renamed "Hitomi," which means "pupil of the eye."

The new satellite will collect the X-ray signals of countless cosmic objects from its orbit around Earth, including hot gas in galaxy clusters, powerful particle streams spit out by black holes, and the remnants of supernova explosions with very dense, rapidly rotating neutron stars at their center.

"The launch of Hitomi represents the beginning of a new era for X-ray observatories," said Roger Blandford of the Kavli Institute of Stanford University, in a news release. "Its novel instruments will allow us to make new discoveries involving dark matter, dark energy, black holes and neutron stars."

X-rays paint a different a complementary picture of the universe compared to other light. Visible light, for instances, is not powerful enough to shine through dense clouds of dust-seemingly impenetrable curtains for objects behind them. Energetic X-rays, on the other hand, can go right through these clouds and lift the curtain.

"We'll be able to tell whether the motion of hot gas in galaxy clusters is steady or turbulent," said Steve Allen of KIPAC. "This motion is an important ingredient in our models of galaxy formation, which, in turn, impact our picture of cosmic evolution."

The new satellite should give researchers new data and a new, clearer view of the universe.

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