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First data from Hitomi telescope reveal dynamics of hot cluster gas

7 July, 2016


? Perseus cluster. Photo credit: NASA, ESA, NRAO and L. Frattare (STScI)Perseus cluster. Photo credit: NASA, ESA, NRAO and L. Frattare (STScI)

A paper examining some of the first data delivered by the ill-fated Hitomi X-ray telescope (formally called Astro-H) has been released 

Perseus cluster. Photo credit: NASA, ESA, NRAO and L. Frattare (STScI)

Hitomi was developed in collaboration with universities and research institutes from Japan and internationally including the NASA, Canadian Space Agency and Saint Mary’s University. Dr. Luigi Gallo, a Saint Mary’s astronomy and physics professor led the Canadian science team that worked on the project. Hitomi was launched by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) in February. Just over a month after the successful launch JAXA lost contact. 

Despite losing contact with the satellite early on in the mission, Dr. Gallo says there is still much to learn from the data that was recovered. Dr. Gallo also noted that the Canadian portion of the telescope, the Canadian ASTRO-H Metrology System (CAMS), performed above expectations.

CAMS was built by Neptec Design Group, a Canadian spaceflight engineering company in partnership with the Canadian Space Agency. It is an innovative measurement system for Hitomi’s hard x-ray telescope to assist in making unprecedented observations of phenomena such as black holes, supernova explosions, neutron stars and advance toward understanding how galaxies were formed.

“Looking at this amazing science data is truly bittersweet.  Though the mission ended, we’re very pleased and proud of how CAMS performed,” Dr. Gallo said. “For the short duration of the mission, CAMS performance exceeded all expectation. CAMS was able to measure telescope deformations induced by day/night changes in temperature, down to minute pointing changes due to on-board heaters operation.  Neptec looks forward to apply this technology to new space telescopes such as the ESA Proba-3 mission.”

Using the Hitomi data, scientists examined the Perseus Cluster which is composed of hundreds of galaxies. Dr. Gallo says the space between the galaxies in the Perseus Cluster is filled with hot plasma (millions of degrees) that should have begun cooling down.  “Instead in this cluster, the ejected energy from the black hole was heating the surrounding gas. This stopped it from cooling and forming stars as normal.”

The data showed the effect of the black hole ejecting its energy in the galaxy and galaxy cluster and how it plays an important role in how stars and galaxies are formed.  This reheating of the X-ray gas prevents star formation.  Ultimately the black hole, which is small compared to the entire galaxy and galaxy clusters, is controlling how many galaxies form and how large the galaxies can get.

 “Only about 5% of the Universe emits light that we can study,” said Dr. Gallo. "Hitomi provided us with  us an unprecedented view of one of the most hostile regions in space.”

Dr. Robert Summerby-Murray, President of Saint Mary’s University says the Hitomi project is a fine example of the great research that continues to be performed at Saint Mary’s.

“Building on Saint Mary’s reputation for academic and research excellence – we will continue to collaborate in research initiatives that are valued by, relevant to, and engage communities locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally.”

 

 

 

“Building on Saint Mary’s reputation for academic and research excellence – we will continue to collaborate in research initiatives that are valued by, relevant to, and engage communities locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally.”