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Doomed 'Hitomi' Spacecraft Charts Hot Winds of Galaxy Cluster Perseus

Jul 10, 2016 12:03 AM EDT

The doomed Japanese spacecraft "Hitomi" still managed to deliver valuable science when it documented hot winds from a galaxy cluster before it died in space.

The hot winds of stirring gas within a galaxy cluster are an ingredient of a supermassive black hole formation. The stirring process keeps the star formation at the minimum. The new findings from the doomed spacecraft will help scientists answer the question as to why very few stars are formed in clusters composed of hundreds or thousands of galaxies.

"We already knew that supermassive black holes, which are found at the center of all galaxy clusters and are tens of billions of times more massive than the sun, could play a major role in keeping the gas from cooling by somehow injecting energy into it," Norbert Werner, a research associate at Stanford University said in a statement. "Now we understand this mechanism better and see that there is just the right amount of stirring motion to produce enough heat," Werner added.

The Hitomi X-ray observatory didn't last for a very long time after the rocket carrying it suffered a glitch that sent Hitomi into a crazy spin damaging the equipment. But before it happened, astronomers were able to use it to peek at a galaxy cluster Perseus, according to Sky and Telescope.

The study from the analyzed Hitomi data was published in Nature. "It was very exciting to get the science, but it's devastating to lose the spacecraft," Andrew Fabian, director of the Institute of Astronomy at the University of Cambridge said in an interview with the Verge. "It feels like a door was opened and we can see through it and then immediately the door is slammed shut," Fabian added.

Prior to its death, Hitomi is observing X-rays from Perseus cluster, including the hot gasses between galaxies. In the center of the clusters is a supermassive black hole that interacts with the gasses from the clusters. This is what expert call "black hole feedback" that keeps the gasses hot. It was thought that there exists a turbulent process but Hitomi's findings proved otherwise.

Hitomi's soft X-ray spectrometer's precision was praised by Fabian and he hopes that this finding will inspire developers and the Japan Space Agency (JAXA) to create another spacecraft with the same features as Hitomi to continue the study that the doomed observatory started.


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