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India’s first black hole space observation satellite readies for launch

24 September 2015

Researchers from the University of Leicester have been involved in the development of the first ever Indian satellite dedicated to astronomical observations.

The completed Astrosat satellite (photo: Indian Space Research Organisation)

Astrosat, which will be launched on Monday 28 September by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota in South-East India, is designed to make studies of the ultra-violet, optical, low and high-energy X-ray emission from celestial objects at the same time and will be particularly useful at measuring the time variability of compact sources such as neutron stars and black holes, including the super-massive black holes at the centre of galaxies.

The satellite’s instruments have been built by a consortium of institutes in India (the Tata Institute for Fundamental Research (TIFR)), Mumbai, the Indian Institute for Astronomy (IIA), Bengaluru and the Indian Universities Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics, (IUCAA), Pune in addition to ISRO, the Canadian Space Agency and the University of Leicester in the UK.

The team from the University of Leicester’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, led by Dr Gordon Stewart, has assembled a sensitive CCD camera for the Soft X-ray Telescope (SXT) constructed by a team led by Professor K P Singh in TIFR, Mumbai who have also provided the data processing electronics.

Astrosat weighs almost 1.5 tonnes and will carry four co-aligned telescopes observing over a very broad range of the electro-magnetic spectrum from the visible, optical range through the far ultra-violet to high energy X-rays. In addition there will be an instrument monitoring the sky for bright transient phenomena.

By studying the time and spectral dependence of the emission astronomers hope to gain a better understanding of the material around the black hole and how it is falling onto or being driven away from the massive object, making ‘black’ holes some of the brightest objects in the Universe.

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