Unlocking the Structure of the Universe

Apr 05, 2016

Physicists at the UIC Microphysics Laboratory and EPIR Technologies, Inc. have made a substantial contribution to a space mission that may help decode some of the universe’s most intriguing mysteries. The ASTRO-H mission, launched from Tanegashima Space Center in Japan on February 17, will study the structure of the universe and the physical phenomena that occur in extreme conditions, such as black holes, cosmic rays, and galaxy clusters. The mission was renamed HITOMI upon launching.

As it orbits the earth, HITOMI will collect data across a wide energy range using state-of-the-art instruments. These instruments give the launch extraordinary new capabilities to capture data. In fact, the project is capable of capturing the highest-ever resolutions of certain forms of energy.

The UIC and EPIR team was led by Professor Sivalingam Sivananthan and Professor Christoph Grein, in collaboration with NASA and JAXA, the Japanese space agency. Sivananthan and Grein’s team developed HgTe calorimeter tiles with ultralow specific heat. The tiles permit soft x-ray detection with very high energy resolution, and are the absorbers of the Soft X-ray Spectrometer System that forms a crucial part of HITOMI’s energy measurement technology. The tiles are essentially what would allow HITOMI to perform the high resolution imaging it seeks.

After a successful launch, observers have noted debris in the area of the spacecraft and have recorded that it appears to be tumbling. It remains to be seen whether the mission can be rescued.

Professor Sivananthan is also the co-founder and CEO of EPIR

Image courtesy JAXA.

Learn more about ASTRO-H/HITOMI:

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