Japan is Tracking Tumbling and Damaged Satellite
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is struggling to understand exactly what went wrong with its brand-new astronomy satellite, Hitomi, which suffered some sort of malfunction over the weekend and is apparently tumbling in space.
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is struggling to understand exactly what went wrong with its brand-new astronomy satellite, Hitomi, which suffered some sort of malfunction over the weekend and is apparently tumbling in space, according to a video captured by an amateur astronomer.
Officials with JAXA lost regular contact with Hitomi on Saturday (March 26), but the space agency received two cryptic signals from the spacecraft yesterday, officials reported in a status update today (March 29). Radar observations have detected two objects near the satellite's orbit, JAXA officials wrote in the update. [See video of the satellite tumbling shot by Paul Maley]
Amateur astronomers and satellite trackers, meanwhile, are following Hitomi's plight using ground-based telescopes. One video, captured by Paul Maley in Arizona, shows the satellite's brightness flaring up, then dimming, as the craft moves across the sky. Maley told National Geographic's Nadia Drake that his video - which first appeared on Drake's NatGeo blog No Place Like Home - suggests the satellite is tumbling in space.
"Because the orbit of Hitomi is quite stable it is relatively easy to track. In fact, if the sky clears up I will be attempting additional video beginning tonight," Maley told Space.com in an email today, adding that he will be watching for any changes in its rotation. "So far, it remains unchanged at a bit over 10 seconds between major flashes. These peak flashes can reach + 3 magnitude (or slightly dimmer than the North Star) but are brief. Between these major flashes there are minor ones but the satellite is also invisible during each major flash cycle as well. My video does reveal that."
According to JAXA's latest update, the Hitomi satellite, which launched in February, separated into multiple pieces at around 10:42 a.m. EDT (1442 GMT) March 26. JAXA detected two short flashes of signal 2.5 hours apart over the night of March 28-29, from the Santiago Tracking Station in Chile.
"JAXA has not been able to figure out the state of its health, as the time frames for receiving the signals were very short," JAXA officials said in the statement. [Japan's Hitomi X-Ray Astronomy Satellite Explained (Infographic)]
The U.S. Strategic Command's Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC) reported that on Sunday (March 27), it detected five pieces of debris associated with the satellite. Then amateur observers like Maley noted flashes of light coming from the satellite at a regular interval, suggesting that the craft was spinning.
JAXA's own radar, at the Kamisaibara Space Guard Center, has detected two objects near the satellite's original orbit, and Japan Space Forum's Bisei Space Guard Center telescope has seen one of them. The organization "continues to investigate the relationship between the information announced by JSpOC and the communication anomaly," officials said.
"JAXA will continue to do its best to recover communications with Hitomi and investigate the cause of the anomaly," they added.
Hitomi, also known as ASTRO-H, launched Feb. 17 to simultaneously observe regions of the sky in the X-ray and gamma-ray registers. The craft was 46 feet (14 meters) long when deployed and weighed 6,000 lbs. (2.7 metric tons). It is intended to investigate the evolution and large-scale structure of the universe, dark matter distribution, how matter behaves in high-gravity areas like black holes and other high-energy phenomena, JAXA wrote on the telescope's website.
The satellite was built in collaboration with NASA, the Canadian Space Agency and European Space Agency among others.
More from SPACE.com:
Satellite Tracker and Interactive Map: How to Spot the Hitomi Satellite, Space Station & More JAXA Satellite's Out-Of-Control Tumble Captured By Amateur Astronomer | Video Photos: Spotting Satellites & Spaceships from Earth Original article on Space.com. Copyright 2016 SPACE.com, a Purch company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Artist's impression of the Hitomi astronomy satellite that the Japanese space agency JAXA lost contact with over the weekend.
This month marks the 15th year that NASA's awe-inspiring Chandra X-ray Space Telescope has been observing high-energy phenomena in the cosmos. With its X-ray vision, the orbiting telescope has brought us some of the most mind-blowing views of supernova remnants -- the glowing embers of stars that have (in cosmic timescales) recently exploded, spewing out hot gas and dust. Shock waves traveling millions of miles an hour can still be observed ripping through these interstellar clouds. Chandra's contribution to our understanding of the aftermath of a star's life has been nothing short of revolutionary, so to celebrate its 15 years in space,
Shown here is perhaps the most famous remnant of all. First observed by Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe over 400 years ago, this beautifully symmetric expanding cloud is a perfect example of a supernova remnant in action. Powerful shock waves can be seen within the supersonic gases traveling outward and inward, energizing the stellar material as it goes. The blue outer shell of X-ray emissions is caused by these outward-propagating shock waves accelerating electrons, whereas the red and green emissions are energized gases accelerated by the inwardly propagating shocks.
This eerie supernova remnant was spawned in 1181 AD by a supernova observed by Chinese and Japanese astronomers. By zooming in on the central region of the remaining cloud of debris, Chandra has been able to resolve the impact of the rapidly spinning neutron star that can be seen in its core. A torus of X-ray-generating material can be seen. X-ray jets can be seen accelerating away from the neutron star to the left and right. This turbulent mess of high-energy gases, shocks and powerful magnetic fields has generated X-ray emissions across the energy spectrum. High-energy X-rays are the bright blue regions; the redder regions are lower energy X-rays.
As with 3C58, the Crab Nebula also has a spinning neutron star in its core and Chandra has gotten up-close and personal with this stellar corpse. Created from super-dense material that has collapsed in on itself after the supernova explosion, neutron stars retain much of the original star's spin -- but as the neutron star is only a few miles wide, the smaller object spins much faster, often many times per second. If the conditions are right, the neutron star can generate bright X-ray and radio emissions, becoming a pulsar. In the center of the Crab Nebula is a very well-known pulsar that sports an energetic ring of material and impressive jets spouting from its poles. The exploding star that generated this pulsar and remnant exploded in 1054 AD and was recorded by Chinese astronomers.
The supernova remnant G292.0+1.8 is of particular interest to astronomers. One of only three remnants in our galaxy known to contain large quantities of oxygen, G292.0+1.8 is a source of elements heavier than hydrogen and helium. The high metalicity of debris clouds like these form the basis of metal-rich stars, planets and complex chemistry that forms the basis for life.