China launches its first X-ray space telescope to observe black holes, pulsars and gamma-ray bursts, via a Long March-4B rocket from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China's Gobi Desert on June 15, 2017. [Photo: thepaper.cn]
China launched its first X-ray space telescope to observe black holes, pulsars and gamma-ray bursts. It's expected to bring new breakthroughs in the study of high-energy astrophysics.
It's being hailed as another stride in the country's space exploration following the recent launches of the Dark Matter Particle Explorer and the Quantum Experiments at Space Scale missions.
The Hard X-ray Modulation Telescope (HXMT), dubbed Insight, was sent into an orbit of 550 kilometers above the earth to help scientists better understand the evolution of black holes, and the strong magnetic fields and interiors of pulsars.
Through the 2.5-tonne telescope, scientists will also study how to use pulsars for spacecraft navigation, and search for gamma-ray bursts corresponding to gravitational waves.
Zhang Shuangnan is a lead scientist on the telescope project.
"The telescope will observe the X-rays generated in the evolution of the materials near black holes and neutron stars. By observing the X-ray radiation, the telescope can enable us to study the scientific laws that cannot be studied in laboratories on Earth."
Compared with X-ray astronomical satellites of other countries, China's telescope can detect larger areas, has a broader energy range and wider field of view.
These are believed to give it advantages in observing black holes and neutron stars emitting bright X-rays and have higher efficiency for scanning the galaxy.
Zhao Jian, from the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense, is confident about Insight.
"Currently in the world there are seven similar satellites in orbit. But our satellite has strong comprehensive capabilities for detection. It can detect a wider range of wave bands and the full energy spectrum ranging from high to moderate and low energy as well as the gamma-ray area."
Insight will be in operation for at least four years.
It's regarded as a small observatory in space, as it carries a trio of detectors -- the high energy X-ray telescope, the medium energy X-ray telescope and the low energy X-ray telescope.
Black holes will be the focus of its observation.
Chinese experts say compared with foreign X-ray satellites which are mostly suitable for observing relatively calm black holes, the Chinese telescope is suitable for observing angry black holes and neutron stars.
Another major task for Insight is to find electromagnetic signals corresponding to gravitational waves.
Many scientists believe if they can find electromagnetic signals happening at similar positions and times of gravitational wave events, it would increase the reliability of the detection,while combined analysis of gravitational wave and electromagnetic signals will help reveal more about the celestial bodies emitting gravitational waves.