NAGOYA--In the cosmological race to unravel the mysteries of the universe, a group of Nagoya University and other researchers have completed an X-ray telescope with the world’s highest sensitivity, promising sharper images of elusive deep-space targets.
“Through the telescope, we will be able to see the worlds of ultra-high energy, such as supernova explosions and black holes,” said Hideyo Kunieda, professor of astronomy at Nagoya University.
The telescope will be loaded as the “eye” of the X-ray observation satellite Astro-H, which is scheduled to be launched in fiscal 2014 by an international team, including the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
The x-ray spectrum is a kind of light that is invisible to human eyes. It is emitted by stars and flitters about in the universe. However, this spectrum barely reaches the Earth as it is blocked by air, so X-ray telescopes must be lifted high above the atmosphere to do their work.
Observing this light in the universe, the international team is seeking to look for unknown black holes and study how our galaxy was formed.
The telescope has a conical shape with a diameter of about 45 centimeters and a height of about 60 cm. In it, about 1,300 pieces of rounded aluminum-made reflection boards are placed concentrically with slight spaces maintained between them. The telescope will be installed on the upper part of the satellite.
X-rays that pass the conical telescope change their directions slightly when they strike the reflection boards. As a result, they are gathered into a detector installed on the lower part of the satellite like a tail. The gathered X-rays are processed into images for observation.
The biggest feature of the completed telescope is that the surfaces of the 0.2 millimeter-thick reflection boards have been specially processed. The surfaces are coated with several hundred nanometer-thick membranes. (One nano is one-billionth.) The membranes are made by alternately piling platinum layers and carbon layers.
The special processing makes it possible to collect light from the X-ray spectrum more efficiently. As a result, stronger X-rays, which have never been collected, can be observed.
The development of the telescope started in the summer of 2010. Early this year, the researchers thought that they had finally completed the telescope. In oscillation experiments conducted in March, however, fasteners for the reflection boards bent. As a result, the boards were displaced.
The researchers had to reinforce the fasteners with the help of midsize and small companies in the Tokai region in and around Nagoya.
The researchers will check the capabilities of the telescope by exposing it to strong X-rays in the large synchrotron radiation facility “SPring-8” in Hyogo Prefecture, as if it was peering at the universe.
They plan to manufacture one more telescope of the same design by the launching of Astro-H.
The satellite will be lifted into orbit from the Tanegashima Space Center aboard Japan’s H2A rocket. At that time, it will be equipped with not only the two telescopes developed by the researchers, but also two other telescopes that are currently being developed by NASA to collect weaker X-rays.
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