Skip to main content

Russia launches X-ray observatory capable of locating thousands of black holes

Russia’s Proton-M rocket launches the Spektr-RG observatory on Saturday, July 13. Roscosmos

Russia has finally launched its powerful X-ray observatory, Spektr-RG, after a month’s delay caused by faulty batteries on board the spacecraft. The launch took place at 5:30 a.m. PT on Saturday, July 13, taking off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome.

Spektr-RG is a satellite created in cooperation between the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) and the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) as well as universities in Russia and Germany. It will survey in the X-ray frequency once it reaches its final destination in 100 days. It is aiming for an orbit sitting between the gravitational pull of the Sun and the Earth in a location called a Lagrange point located 1.5 kilometers (0.9 miles) from Earth. This means that very little fuel is required to keep the observatory in place.

Related Videos

Equipment on board the observatory includes two X-ray telescopes, ART-XC and eROSITA. ART-XC is designed to detect high energy X-rays with a narrow field of view, while eROSITA looks at lower energy X-rays. Together, they will conduct a seven year X-ray survey to search for clusters of galaxies and active galactic nuclei. It is predicted that the survey could locate “several thousand growing supermassive black holes hidden from viewers on Earth by thick clouds of dust and gas concentrating around accretion discs,” according to Russian space commentator Anatoly Zak.

As well as locating interesting cosmic features, information gathered from the observatory could also help scientists learns more about how black holes form and how dark energy affects the way that the universe is expanding.

This will put Russia and Germany at the forefront of X-ray observations, but it has been a rocky road for the Russian space program. As well as the delay to this week’s launch, the project was initially planned to be launched as early as 1995. The program was canceled due to funding issues in 2002, but it was reinstated in 2005 when Germany stepped in to assist. And the Spektr-RG’s predecessor, the Spektr-R satellite, ceased operations in January this year when communications with it were unexpectedly lost. Ground controllers continued trying to contact the satellite until May, when it was declared lost.

Editors' Recommendations

Swift Observatory in safe mode as NASA investigates issue
An artist's rendering of the Swift spacecraft with a gamma-ray burst going off in the background.

An issue with NASA's Swift Observatory has forced it to suspend science operations and enter safe mode while the team investigates. The space-based telescope is not one of NASA's best-known missions, but it has played a key role in investigating an astronomical phenomenon called gamma-ray bursts.

The telescope, originally named the Swift Gamma-Ray Burst Explorer and later renamed the Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory, experienced a problem earlier this week suspected to be related to faulty hardware. "On the evening of Tuesday, January 18, NASA's Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory entered into safe mode, suspending pointed science observations," NASA wrote in a brief update. "The mission team is investigating a possible failure of one of the spacecraft's reaction wheels as the cause."

Read more
See the sun flaring thanks to the Solar Dynamics Observatory
Image of a solar flare.

This week, the Sun erupted with a powerful solar flare, and the incident was caught in real-time by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory. NASA has shared remarkable footage of the event, which took place on January 20, peaking at 1:01 a.m. ET.

"Solar flares are powerful bursts of energy," NASA writes. "Flares and solar eruptions can impact radio communications, electric power grids, navigation signals, and pose risks to spacecraft and astronauts."

Read more
Watch highlights of SpaceX’s spectacular Starlink night launch
A SpaceX rocket heading to space.

SpaceX has just launched another batch of Starlink internet satellites to space.

A Falcon 9 rocket departed Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 9:02 p.m. ET on Tuesday night.

Read more