China’s first X-ray space telescope that will allow scientists to study the evolution of black holes, strong magnetic fields and gamma-ray bursts was successfully launched on Thursday.
The Hard X-ray Modulation Telescope (HXMT) which weighs 2.5-tonne is dubbed ‘Insights’. A long March-4B rocket lifted the space telescope from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China’s Gobi Desert and placed it into an orbit of 550 kilometers above the earth.
The telescope will also help scientists to study the use of pulsars for spacecraft navigation and search for gamma-ray bursts corresponding to gravitational waves, state-run news agency Xinhua reported.
‘Insight’ is the brainchild of the wisdom and efforts of several generations of Chinese scientists. It is expected to take forward the development of space astronomy and improve space X-ray detection technology in China.
Given the fact that it carried a trio of detectors - the high energy X-ray telescope (HE), the medium energy X-ray telescope (ME) and the low energy X-ray telescope (LE) – the ‘Insight’ can be considered as a small observatory in space.
These detectors cover a broad energy band from 1 keV to 250 keV, said Lu Fangjun, chief designer of the payload, the report said.
Based on the demodulation technique first proposed by Li Tipei, an academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), in 1993, the HE has a total detection area of more than 5,000 square centimeters, the world’s largest in its energy band.
“Given it has a larger detection area than other X-ray probes, HXMT can identify more features of known sources,” said Xiong Shaolin, a scientist at the Institute of High Energy Physics of the CAS.Chen Yong, chief designer of the LE, said X-rays of lower energy usually have more photons, so a telescope based on a focusing technique is not suitable for observing very bright objects emitting soft X-rays, as too many photons at a time will result in over-exposure.
But HXMT will not have that problem, as its collimators diffuse photons instead of focusing them.
“No matter how bright the sources are, our telescope won’t be blinded,” said Chen.
Zhang Shuangnan, HXMT lead scientist, said the satellite’s developers found that a set of HXMT high-energy detectors, originally designed to shield background noises caused by unwanted particles, could be adjusted to observe gamma-ray bursts.
The satellite’s observation band is pushed by the creative new function up to 3 MeV and a very good energy spectrum, Zhang said.
China’s first cargo spacecraft successfully docked with an orbiting space lab in April. It was a key development toward China’s goal of having its own crewed space station by 2022.
China started a “Lunar Palace” laboratory on Earth last month with an aim to simulate a moon-like environment and house students for up to 200 days as the country prepares for its long-term goal of sending humans to the natural satellite.
(With inputs from PTI)