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.

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

Georgina Torbet
Georgina is the Digital Trends space writer, covering human space exploration, planetary science, and cosmology. She…
This beautiful map of the sky traces key sources of X-rays as seen from the ISS
x ray trace map nicernightmovesnolabels sm 1

This image of the whole sky shows 22 months of X-ray data recorded by NASA's Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) payload aboard the International Space Station during its nighttime slews between targets. NASA/NICER

This beautiful image was captured by an instrument aboard the International Space Station (ISS), the Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER). NICER's primary function is to investigate neutron stars with great precision, using X-rays to measure their dense cores. For it to do this, it has to track sources of X-rays throughout the night sky as the station orbits around the Earth every 93 minutes.

Read more
Scientists use an X-ray laser to create the loudest possible underwater sound
loudest sound under water screen shot 2019 05 22 at 09 36 30

Researchers may have produced the loudest sound possible to make under water. The 270 decibel sound, created by blasting tiny jets of water with an X-ray laser, had a greater intensity than that of a rocket launch. It was carried out by a team from Stanford University and the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, using SLAC’s Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) X-ray laser.

“This type of sound is generated in many scientific experiments that study chemical and biological samples at X-ray lasers, where the samples are often carried by liquid jets,” Claudiu Stan, one of the project researchers, told Digital Trends. “In principle, the sound wave and the shocks may damage a sample before it arrives in front of the X-ray laser. We found that the shock wave is attenuated very rapidly. However, it may still be detrimental for experiments in which the X-ray pulses have high repetition rates. Our study is useful for understanding which experiments are more likely to be affected."

Read more
Digital Trends’ Top Tech of CES 2023 Awards
Best of CES 2023 Awards Our Top Tech from the Show Feature

Let there be no doubt: CES isn’t just alive in 2023; it’s thriving. Take one glance at the taxi gridlock outside the Las Vegas Convention Center and it’s evident that two quiet COVID years didn’t kill the world’s desire for an overcrowded in-person tech extravaganza -- they just built up a ravenous demand.

From VR to AI, eVTOLs and QD-OLED, the acronyms were flying and fresh technologies populated every corner of the show floor, and even the parking lot. So naturally, we poked, prodded, and tried on everything we could. They weren’t all revolutionary. But they didn’t have to be. We’ve watched enough waves of “game-changing” technologies that never quite arrive to know that sometimes it’s the little tweaks that really count.

Read more