Astro-H, or Hitomi, will probe the sky in the X-ray and soft gamma ray portions of the electromagnetic spectrum

ASTRO-H satellite launched to study black holes

ASTRO-H, a satellite designed to study supermassive black holes and other space phenomena has been launched by Japan in an H-IIA rocket.

The launch took place yesterday from the Tanegashima Space Centre, situated on a small island in the south of Japan.

This satellite has been developed in collaboration with institutions in Japan, the US, Canada and Europe and will probe the sky in the X-ray and soft gamma ray portions of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Although it was previously called Astro-H, after lift-off the satellite was designated Hitomi, Japan traditionally assigns a name to its satellites during the implementation phase before renaming them after launch.

Hitomi is a Japanese word used to describe the 'eye' or more specifically, the pupil.

The satellite has been designed to study some of the most powerful phenomena in the cosmos, ranging from supernova explosions at the end of a star's life to supermassive black holes, devouring matter at the centre of distant galaxies and the hot gas permeating galaxy clusters, the largest bound structures in the Universe.

The European Space Agency (ESA) contributed to the mission by partly funding various elements of Hitomi’s four science instruments, by providing three European scientists to serve as science advisers and by contributing one scientist to the operations team in Japan.

In return for ESA's contribution, European scientists will be able to compete for eight per cent of the observational time.

Following data received by the satellite’s ground station, it was confirmed that it had successfully deployed its solar array paddles normally and had begun operations.

A recording of the rocket’s live broadcast can be seen below (in Japanese):

The Lisa Pathfinder satellite, which is designed to detect gravitational waves in space, was launched in December and has now reached a stable orbit.

Faint signals emanating from two distant black holes were already picked up by land-based detectors in the United States earlier this month.

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