Japanese Space Agency Lost Contact With New Orbital X-Ray Observatory
Sadly, this is probably not the beginning of a sci-fi movie. Probably.
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has lost communication with the Hitomi X-ray observatory recently put into orbit around the Earth. They’re still optimistic that things will turn out alright, but observations from the ground have been unable to pinpoint just what went so wrong with this groundbreaking X-ray observatory.
That’s disappointing to say the least, since Hitomi brought a new level of power and accuracy to X-ray astronomy and would have been able to observe emissions from black holes, the remnants of supernovae, and more like never before. Now, it’s spinning (literally, it seems) through the blackness of space just above the Earth in silence after the beginning of its operations—following its February 17 launch—failed on Saturday.
The Joint Space Operations Center reported yesterday that Hitomi had broken up into five separate pieces, but Science reports that JAXA says they made contact with the observatory after its reported breakup, which throws that observation into question. Amateur satellite trackers have reported seeing Hitmoi in full in a slow spin, which JAXA says shouldn’t impede their ability to communicate with it as long as its solar panels are getting power. They’re still actively trying to restore contact in hopes of finding out what went wrong, and Hitomi science working group chairperson Andrew Fabian told Science that a total loss of the satellite so far is “groundless speculation.”
So … while we’re all groundlessly speculating, I’d just like to point out how many sci-fi stories start with the mysterious loss of space apparatus. I don’t have hard numbers on this, but I think it’s something like “all of them,” give or take. So, I guess what I’m saying here is …
But it’s also worth noting that the loss of Hitomi would be, in all seriousness, hugely disappointing to the scientific community at large as well as the individuals who were looking forward to working with Hitomi’s capabilities to learn more about the Universe than ever before. I hope the aliens give our toy back soon.
(featured image via JAXA/NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center)
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