Jun 28, 2017 | Updated: 09:10 PM EDT

China Continues Aggressive Thrust into Astrophysical Research

Jun 19, 2017 07:27 PM EDT

Black hole
(Photo : GettyImages.com) Black holes are a source of X-ray radiation.

The long arid stretches of the Gobi Desert were lit up once again when China launched its Hard X-ray Modulation Telescope (HXMT) atop a fiery Long March-4B rocket.

This is the fourth in a series of astrophysical satellites, indicating that China is clearly intent on being the world leader in space exploration.

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Carrying three X-ray telescopes the HXMT will focus its eyes on high energy phenomena like gamma ray sources, neutron stars, and radiation from black holes.

Despite their enormous power, X rays cannot pierce the earth's atmosphere. In the past, X rays have had to be studied by placing instruments in high-altitude balloons. The HXTM will be in orbit about 550 miles above earth as it seeks new X-ray objects, some as energetic as 200 kilo electron volts.

Excitement surrounding the new scope, however, has been overshadowed this week by the stunning news that one of China's previous efforts, quantum ground-satellite-ground messaging, has been strikingly successful. The technology uses entangled photons and China has shown that the process works over long distances. The pathway is now clear for quantum encrypted communication, which most experts agree is unbreakable.

China previously launched a dark matter probe and an instrument package for microgravity experiments. The enormous commitment to space research is evident by this recent flurry of launches. But just as this recent plan comes to an end, the Chinese Academy of Sciences announced a new round that will take place over the next five years.

Neutron stars are one of the many sources of celestial X rays. They are the smallest and most dense of stars. Pulsars with surface temperatures above 600,000 K they often release enormous bursts of X rays. And though many objects like these neutron stars have been studied, there is still an enormous amount of work to do to locate the many unmapped source including temporary events that release X rays. The HXMT will add significantly to the X map of the sky.

The mission is expected to last for four years, at which point China hopes to place the Einstein Probe in orbit. It will have a wide-field X-ray telescope and the Follow Up telescope, which will study everything from charge emissions in comets to high red shifts from the early universe.


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