Japanese Hitomi X-ray Satellite, Lost 2 Months After Launch, Gives Insight Into Perseus Galaxy Cluster

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Japanese Hitomi X-ray Satellite, Lost 2 Months After Launch, Gives Insight Into Perseus Galaxy Cluster

Tokyo, Nov 17: Japanese Hitomi X-ray satellite believed to have been lost just two months after its launch in February 2016 has managed to provide important data to space scientists related to gases into the Perseus galaxy cluster 240 million light years from Earth. The Perseus galaxy cluster has thousands of galaxies all of which are […]

Tokyo, Nov 17: Japanese Hitomi X-ray satellite believed to have been lost just two months after its launch in February 2016 has managed to provide important data to space scientists related to gases into the Perseus galaxy cluster 240 million light years from Earth. The Perseus galaxy cluster has thousands of galaxies all of which are held together by gravity within a thin hot gas and has an average temperature of 50 million degrees Celsius.

USA’s National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) had jointly developed the Hitomi X-ray satellite. The satellite was launched on February 17, 2017 but scientists lost with it in just 38 days after its altitude control system developed some problem. But within its short lifespan, Hitomi X-ray satellite gathered invaluable data which is now proving to be goldmine of information to scientists who are studying the composition of the Perseus galaxy cluster gases to find out how they were created.

Between February 25, 2016 and March 6, 2016, scientists had used Hitomi x-ray satellite’s high-resolution Soft X-ray Spectrometer (SXS) instrument to observe the Perseus galaxy cluster which revealed several interesting facts. According to a paper published in the journal Nature, the researchers observed a landscape of X-ray peaks emitting from various chemical elements with a resolution 30 times better than previously seen. They also found that the proportions of elements found in the cluster are nearly identical to what astronomers see in our Sun.

One group of elements is closely tied to a particular class of stellar explosion, called Type Ia supernovas. These explosions entail the total destruction of a white dwarf, a compact remnant produced by stars like the Sun.

These blasts are thought to be responsible for producing most of the universe’s chromium, manganese, iron and nickel – metals collectively known as ‘iron-peak’ elements. The study suggests that the same combination of Type Ia supernovas producing iron-peak elements in our solar system also produced these metals in the cluster’s gas.

This means both the solar system and the Perseus cluster experienced broadly similar chemical evolution, suggesting that the processes forming stars – and the systems that became Type Ia supernovas – were comparable in both locations.

“Despite the failure of the mission soon after launch, the precious few observations that we did obtain have proven to be transformational for our understanding of superheated cosmic plasmas,” said Poshak Gandhi, astronomer at University of Southampton. “Such plasmas outweigh known galaxies in clusters 10 to one, so are an essential component to our complete understanding of the universe,” said Gandhi, who was among a 200-strong team of scientists involved in the international collaboration.

With inputs from PTI