Hitomi, Japan’s newest space telescope, was meant to study the high-energy universe — but it may be in deep trouble. (JAXA)
Yesterday, Japan lost contact with its newest space telescope, called Hitomi or ASTRO-H. The telescope, which includes an instrument from NASA, was intended to study the high-energy universe in X-rays (and gamma rays), and observe such objects as supermassive black holes and galaxy clusters.
Today, radar observations indicated that Hitomi, which launched on February 17, is in at least five pieces – and a plot of its orbit revealed a dramatic change on March 26, the date JAXA lost contact with the spacecraft.
Hitomi (ASTRO-H) orbital period versus time from @spacetrackorg data showing sudden change on Mar 26. pic.twitter.com/cQIaOjKlv1
— Jonathan McDowell (@planet4589) March 27, 2016
That means, says astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell, that some kind of “energetic event” has occurred – something more than a simple failure of communications.
“Loss of comm + orbit change + radar detecting 5 pieces of debris is much worse than just loss of comm,” tweeted McDowell, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
It’s not clear exactly what has happened on board Hitomi. Scientists are currently investigating the situation, and JAXA reports that ...