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Future of Canadian astronomy research is looking up

Partnership with Japanese space agency will increase opportunities of research and exploration

March 19, 2015 — 

Earlier this year, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) delivered the Canadian ASTRO-H Metrology system (CAMS) to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Tsukuba Space Centre, and it has now been integrated into the observatory in preparation for its launch in late 2015. Built by the Neptec Design Group, CAMS is a laser measurement system that will calibrate measurements taken with the observatory’s hard X-ray telescopes, significantly enhancing the quality of their images. Post-shipping tests will be done today in Japan.

Samar Safi-Harb of the department of physics and astronomy at the University of Manitoba is Canada Research Chair in Supernova Remnants Astrophysics. She is one of three Canadian astronomers whose research teams are part of the mission’s international science working group. Safi-Harb played a leadership role with her colleagues to define the science to be accomplished with ASTRO-H, specifically to answer some puzzling questions surrounding astronomical objects known as supernova remnants, pulsar wind nebulae and magnetars.

The X-ray telescope is designed to explore mysterious phenomena in the invisible, high-energy Universe with unprecedented detail. ASTRO-H detectors are located 12 metres away from the telescope at the end of a six-metre-long mast that can bend and twist from the extreme temperature variations in space. CAMS consists of a laser and a series of mirrors that will precisely measure the mast’s distortions to a level of accuracy equivalent to the width of two human hairs.

ASTRO-H will advance scientists’ knowledge of black holes, supernova explosions, neutron stars, hot gas in the universe, and how galaxies like our own Milky Way were formed. It will be the first to examine the universe with unprecedented spectral resolution, together with wide energy coverage in X-rays, opening a new discovery window into the high-energy universe.

Safi-Harb explains: “This marks a unique time for Canada, having contributed both instrumentation and science to an international X-ray space mission, to be launched by JAXA. The University of Manitoba is one of three Canadian institutions on this mission, which includes prestigious institutions from Japan (including ISAS), USA (including NASA) and Europe. It’s a great privilege to be part of this promising upcoming X-ray mission and to be collaborating with an excellent international team of scientists and technicians.”

She adds: “This mission will answer fundamental questions in astrophysics, such as: What kind of supernovae create the zoo of neutron stars we observe? Where is the missing thermal plasma in the nebulae surrounding pulsars and in some gamma-ray emitting supernova remnants? And are magnetars the strongest magnets in the universe, and what powers their high energy emission?”

Leader of the CAMS team is Luigi Gallo of Saint Mary’s University, and joining them on the Canadian science is Brian McNamara of the University of Waterloo. The Canadian contingent is helping to promote Canadian innovation by positioning our domestic space industry at the forefront of cutting edge space activities in X-ray optics.

The Canadian Space Agency reports that the launch of CAMS will further Canada’s exploration of space in the quest for new knowledge and opportunities for the benefit of Canadians. It will also strengthen a strategic relationship with an international partner in the interest of science and technology.

Safi-Harb notes: “This exploration of the X-ray universe will benefit everyone, not only Canadian astronomers but also students and young researchers who will have a unique opportunity to contribute to new discoveries and innovation in space astrophysics.”


For more information, please contact Dr. Samar Safi-Harb at: 204-474-7104 or email: samar [dot] safi-harb [at] umanitoba [dot] ca

For information on the Canadian Space Agency, contact: Ruth Ann Chicoine, Senior Communications Advisor, Canadian Space Agency, at: 450-926-4451 or email: RuthAnn [dot] Chicoine [at] asc-csa [dot] gc [dot] ca


Research at the University of Manitoba is partially supported by funding from the Government of Canada Research Support Fund.

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