China successfully launches x-ray satellite

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By Dennis Normile

China’s first astronomical satellite, an x-ray telescope that will search the sky for black holes, neutron stars, and other extremely energetic phenomena, raced into orbit today after a morning launch from the Gobi Desert.

The 2.5-ton Hard X-ray Modulation Telescope (HXMT), dubbed Insight according to the official Xinhua news agency, was carried aloft by a Long March-4B rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. The newest of several x-ray telescope in space, the HXMT will observe some of the most turbulent processes in the universe. The x-rays generated by those events cannot penetrate Earth’s atmosphere; they can only be observed by instruments mounted on high-altitude balloons or satellites. The HXMT carries three x-ray telescopes observing at energies ranging from 20 to 200 kilo-electron volts as well as an instrument to monitor the space environment, according to its designers. While orbiting 550 kilometers above the planet, the HXMT will perform an all-sky survey that is expected to discover a thousand new x-ray sources. Over an expected operating lifetime of 4 years, it will also conduct focused observations of black holes, neutron stars, and gamma ray bursts.

This latest achievement by China’s space science program “is certainly welcomed” by the astronomical community, says Andrew Fabian, a theoretical astrophysicist at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. “It’s very meaningful that they’ve launched their first astronomical satellite and this will pave the way for others,” he says. Fabian predicts that the HXMT sky survey will prove particularly valuable for catching transient x-ray sources that emerge, flare up to tremendous brightness, and then just as quickly fade away. As yet, the processes behind x-ray transients are poorly understood. Other missions are also trying to catch transients in the act. But “any satellite looking at that phenomena is going to find interesting things and do good science,” Fabian says.

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1 COMMENT

  1. @OP – China’s first astronomical satellite, an x-ray telescope that will search the sky for black holes, neutron stars, and other extremely energetic phenomena, raced into orbit today after a morning launch from the Gobi Desert.

    . . . . and while that satellite is looking into deep space, we should also be aware of this one which dealing with matters much nearer Earth!

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-40294795

    China’s quantum satellite in big leap

    The term “spy satellite” has taken on a new meaning with the successful test of a novel Chinese spacecraft.

    The mission can provide unbreakable secret communications channels, in principle, using the laws of quantum science.

    Called Micius, the satellite is the first of its kind and was launched from the Gobi desert last August.

    It is all part of a push towards a new kind of internet that would be far more secure than the one we use now.

    The experimental Micius, with its delicate optical equipment, continues to circle the Earth, transmitting to two mountain-top Earth bases separated by 1,200km.

    The optics onboard are paramount. They’re needed to distribute to the ground stations the particles, or photons, of light that can encode the “keys” to secret messages.

    “I think we have started a worldwide quantum space race,” says lead researcher Jian-Wei Pan, who is based in Hefei in China’s Anhui Province.

    ‘Messy business’

    Quantum privacy in many ways should be like the encryption that already keeps our financial data private online.

    Before sensitive information is shared between shopper and online shop, the two exchange a complicated number that is then used to scramble the subsequent characters. It also hides the key that will allow the shop to unscramble the text securely.

    The weakness is that the number itself can be intercepted, and with enough computing power, cracked.

    Quantum cryptography, as it is called, goes one step further, by using the power of quantum science to hide the key.

    As one of the founders of quantum mechanics Werner Heisenberg realised over 90 years ago, any measurement or detection of a quantum system, such as an atom or photon of light, uncontrollably and unpredictably changes the system.

    This quantum uncertainty is the property that allows those engaged in secret communications to know if they are being spied on: the eavesdropper’s efforts would mess up the connection.

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