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NASA wants to join India’s mission to study black holes


Just three months into the launch of India’s first astronomy satellite, two new NASA satellites and an observatory in Hawai have expressed interest in collaborating with the Astrosat mission to observe astronomical objects. The two new satellites, New Star and Swift, approached us in October to observe transient sources such as black holes. Their detectors are different from ours, and they want cross-correlation and confirmation on the observations. We can coordinate information on our observations. But we need to first finish calibrations, said professor JS Yadav of Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR).

Yadav built the indigenous Large Area X-ray Proportional Counter (LAXPC) – also the most sensitive detector on board Astrosat. Yadav added, “The principal investigator of other infrared instrument in Hawai too has asked to collaborate with observations.” Scientists at TIFR that indigenously built three instruments said one instrument LAXPC was performing better than a similar NASA mission between 1996 and 2012. With the detector having an effective area four to five times more than that used by NASA’s RXTE mission, the LAXPC is likely to get new transient sources such as binary system of neutron stars and black holes over a large area in the Galactic centre.

Our LAXPC detector is working very well both in terms of timing and energy, and better than NASA. Our instrument will fill the gap left after the NASA mission was completed, said Yadav. With the last payload switched on November 30, all three payloads will go through a verification phase for six months with fine-tuning the calibration further. With data starting to come in, scientists said they will start publishing it in three months. “The unique capability of Astrosat is that it can combine LAXPC observations with the other instruments. So there will be more observations and a wider window. This wasn’t there during the NASA mission.