The new instruments, those that allow us to look into previously inaccessible places in the cosmos, are the first step to unraveling its secrets. On Thursday morning in Japan (1:42 a.m. Spanish peninsular time), from the Tanegashima space center, JAXA, the Japanese space agency, launched XRISM and SLIM into space as planned. These two probes will help answer questions about the large-scale universe, but also about nearby worlds like the Moon.
On the tip of an H-IIA rocket built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, travels SLIM (Intelligent Landing Module to explore the Moon), the first probe with which Japan wants to land on the Moon. As demonstrated by the recent failure of the Russian Luna 25 probe, that of the private Japanese mission Hakuto-R and that of several other probes, success cannot be taken for granted, even if India has managed to land its ship on the selenite surface with a project of only 70 million euros. If achieved, Japan would be the fifth country to land on the Moon, after the USSR, the USA, China and India, although it will take at least three months to arrive.
The goal of SLIM is to test highly precise landing technology with a lightweight probe, an approach that may be key to future missions to the Moon and other places in the solar system. The Eagle module, with which Armstrong and Aldrin became the first humans to reach the Moon, had enough precision to land on an ellipse 20 kilometers long and 5 kilometers wide. SLIM aims to land at a maximum distance of 100 meters from the point chosen to do so, in the Shioli crater. The vice director of the JAXA Institute for Astronautical and Space Science, Yoshifumi Inatani, believes that “successful in this extremely precise landing will improve the quality of space exploration.”
Illustrations of the SLIM probe on the Moon and the XRISM space telescope provided by the Japanese space agency.JAXA
With this technology, which includes cameras adapted with image recognition algorithms to detect dangerous obstacles, missions will be able to land where it is most interesting and not just where it is easy to do so. In addition, they could be lighter (SLIM only weighs 600 kilos, of which 400 are fuel), dedicate more space to scientific instruments and make it easier to include the possibility of the probe returning to Earth with samples after its visit. The launch can be followed live.
Supermassive black holes
XRISM (X-ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission) is an X-ray observatory that will use detectors of these electromagnetic signals to study black holes, the formation of chemical elements or galaxy clusters. This project is a second attempt after Hitomi, a Japanese spacecraft with the same objectives and similar technology, was lost due to technical problems a month after its launch, in February 2016.
When you look at the sky with conventional telescopes you see bright objects, such as stars or galaxies, which tell only part of the story of the universe. In the center of galaxies live gigantic gravitational monsters, supermassive black holes, which determine the nature and history of these groupings of stars and planets, and which can be studied with X-ray telescopes such as XRISM. In those places, just as around neutron stars or white dwarfs (corpses of stars that with their gravity create boundaries in the space-time fabric that we know), information can be obtained to advance beyond accepted physics.
Technicians from the Japanese space agency carry out vacuum tests with the XRISM telescope in July 2022.JAXA
Another type of objects that this telescope will investigate are galaxy clusters, groupings with dozens or hundreds of them, fundamental in the evolution of the universe. It is believed that their structure depends on a balance between the pressure of the hot plasma they emit and the cohesive force of the dark matter, but it is not understood why the gradual cooling of the plasma does not cause a more rapid imbalance in these clusters. Studying the temperature and velocity of plasma in these regions of the cosmos will help understand how the loss of plasma is compensated and will thus better understand the distribution of dark matter. This invisible substance, but which represents 80% of the matter that exists, is another of the great mysteries of modern physics.
The third major objective set by the Japanese space agency for XRISM is to improve knowledge of our material history. It is known that, from the first three elements that appeared at the dawn of the universe (hydrogen, helium and lithium), the others began to cook, inside the stars and with the explosions of supernovae. This information can be found in the hot plasma that surrounds galactic clusters and its abundance can be detected there by the spectroscopy system of the Japanese probe, which also has instruments provided by NASA or ESA. The amount of light that that gas absorbs or reflects allows us to estimate the abundance of each element and reconstruct the formation patterns and the way in which, after appearing, they were able to travel through space, accumulate into new stars and give rise to planets like Earth. . Here in our world, carbon, phosphorus or nitrogen formed in ancient stars made life possible.
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