Back in February space agencies around the world were cheering on the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) as it launched a new space observation satellite that was going to get us all some darn answers about black holes. This joint effort between JAXA and NASA caused a bit of confusion among outsiders because the satellite went by different names depending on if you were an Eastern space enthusiast (Hitomi for you) or a Western space enthusiast (ASTRO-H for you).
The gringa prefers the moniker Hitomi. This Japanese word has several meanings, all of which the gringa likes much better than the anacronym ASTRO-H. Hitomi literally means the “pupil of the eye”. However, when you break the word down into its phonetical language parts “hito” and “mi” it becomes “beautiful history”. As I look into the vastness of space and the stars that are kazillions of years old, the cosmos most certainly is the most beautiful history I have ever beheld.
Unfortunately, however, Hitomi’s story is not so pretty. Launched back in February, space fans everywhere were so excited that soon the satellite would be orbiting about 300 miles above us and collect data on X-rays emitted by black holes as well as galaxy clusters. Scientists have been eager for any means to gather more information since the detection of gravitational waves were announced which are directly related to black holes.
After a successful launch the evening of February 16, JAXA and NASA announced that Hitomi’s solar arrays were operating properly and began anticipating the arrival of data and images. Japan’s sixth satellite for the research of X-ray astronomy, the science community waited with bated breath for what they were certain was going to be groundbreaking information from the latest state of the art space satellite technology.
By March 26, contact with Hitomi was lost. By April the announcement came that finally, all hope was lost as well. Bye-bye Hitomi.
Once Hitomi reached its orbit things began to go wrong. Scientists reported that communication was lost within days and that their only conclusion was that the satellite had most likely disintegrated. A quarter of a billion dollars converted to space junk in a matter of weeks. How terribly disappointing. The director general of JAXA, Saku Tsuneta, officially announced the abandonment of the project with his deepest regrets.
Researchers believe that the solar panels that control the instruments may have broken away from the satellite. This would have basically transformed the satellite into a rudderless ship adrift in space. It will be about twelve more years before anything matching Hitomi’s capabilities will launch when the European Space Agency (ESA) completes a similar project.
On a side note, the gringa is surprised that conspiracy theorists haven’t jumped all over this story. When communication was first lost with the satellite, hope was revived when JAXA detected three signals they believed originated from Hitomi. However, after more scrutiny, it was discovered that the signals were not from the spacecraft. Hmmm. The gringa wonders just where, or whom, those signals came from. Could it have been some very clever and covert space aliens who captured human technology? Only time will tell!
Image Source: i.dailymail.co.uk