This year, Japan launched an innovative satellite to monitor black holes, but very quickly lost in strange circumstances. Now we finally know what Hitomi saw before he died.
>>> At last we know what happened to the Japanese satellite that sees black holes
When JAXA launched Hitomi in February, scientists were excited by the possibilities of the satellite could tell us about the mysteries of the universe. He orbited the Earth for about a month, when something went wrong .
A series of unfortunate events caused by human errors and software failures , did the satellite spin out of control. Despite attempts to regain Hitomi, he continued to throw debris into space. In the end, JAXA said the satellite US $ 273 million was lost to time.
However, when Hitomi died, researchers also announced that they managed to get some data from it, and that would detail them in future studies. Some of these data are in a new article in the journal Nature , showing the final observation of the satellite – and it brings some fascinating implications about the role of black holes in galaxy formation.
The role of black holes
The latest observations of Hitomi were the Cluster of Perseus, a set of galaxies 240 million light-years away, with a supermassive black hole at its center. The satellite was able to get this view of the galaxy, as well as measure their activity x-rays:
Researchers expected to see enough activity in the center of the cluster, but observations of x-rays of Hitomi showed the opposite.
“The gas inside clusters is quieter than expected,” says co-author Andrew Fabian of the University of Cambridge, to Gizmodo. “We expected that the level was higher, based on the core activity of the galaxy.”
But the discovery is not just an amazing calm oasis in a turbulent galaxy. It also gives us an insight into the role that black holes exert on how galaxies form (or fail to form).
“The surprise is that the energy pumped out of the black hole is being absorbed very efficiently,” says co-author Brian McNamara of the University of Waterloo, to Gizmodo. “The hot gas that we observe with Hitomi is the material of the future, is the gas from which galaxies form. There is much more of this hot gas than there are stars in the galaxy, ie, there are more things that did not turn into galaxies than things that became galaxies. ”
This means that the next black holes play a big role in the future size of a galaxy. “It shows that black holes control very effectively the rate of growth of galaxies,” says McNamara.
An unfortunate loss
Yes, the discovery underscores how little we still know about the role of black holes in galaxy formation. It also gives us a glimpse of how the satellite was promising before losing.
The loss is even greater because, with Hitomi, the researchers hoped to end a long struggle to finally take the space a microcalorimeter x-rays – a device used to make extremely accurate measurements of energy x-rays. The results of the study were based on only a very small sample obtained from the microcalorimeter Hitomi.
“Measurements of Cluster of Perseus show the potential of microcalorimeter x-rays of Hitomi to transform our understanding of hot gas velocities throughout the Universe,” said Fabian.
Before Hitomi, there were two other attempts to send a microcalorimeter space, and both ended in strange accidents. In 2000, a rocket carrying the first microcalorimeter into space exploded after launch. In 2005, a microcalorimeter came to space, but was destroyed by a leak of coolant.
Only in 2016, with Hitomi, a microcalorimeter was successfully launched long enough to take action – then the satellite was lost.
“It’s a huge loss, because only from that glimpse, we can see the wonderful science that could have happened over the next five years,” says McNamara. “We had a number of comments provided, and the first glimpse we had with the detector shows the richness of what we could find.”
Still, there will be more opportunities to send another microcalorimeter space. “There is loss, but there is also hope, never give up,” says McNamara.