Japan’s new X-ray space telescope has gone silent

illustration of ASTRO-H

Japan’s newest orbiting X-ray telescope, ASTRO-H (illustrated), has gone silent and might have broken into several pieces, the Japanese space agency reports.

Akihiro Ikeshita, JAXA

A new X-ray telescope run by the Japan Aerospace Agency has gone silent a little more than a month after its launch. JAXA reported online March 27 that the telescope, ASTRO-H (aka Hitomi), stopped communicating with Earth. U.S. Strategic Command’s Joint Space Operations Center also reported seeing five pieces of debris alongside the satellite on March 26.

Attempts to figure out what went wrong with the spacecraft, which launched February 17, have not been successful. Up until now though, ASTRO-H seemed to be functioning. In late February, mission operators successfully switched on the spacecraft’s cooling system and tested some of its instruments.

ASTRO-H carries four instruments to study cosmic X-rays over an energy range from 0.3 to 600 kiloelectron volts. By studying X-rays, astronomers hope to learn more about some of the more feisty denizens of the universe such as exploding stars, gorging black holes, and dark matter swirling around within galaxy clusters. Earth’s atmosphere absorbs X-rays, so the only way to see them is to put a telescope in space. 

Christopher Crockett is a freelance science writer and editor based in Arlington, Va. He has a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.

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