China unveils ambitious space projects

Updated: 2012-08-22 03:39


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BEIJING -- China will launch several space projects, including a hard X-ray telescope for black hole studies, between 2014 and 2016, according to a senior Chinese astronomer.

Su Dingqiang, an academic at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and former president of the Chinese Astronomical Society, revealed some details regarding the hard x-ray modulation telescope (HXMT), China's first space telescope, on Tuesday at the opening ceremony of the International Astronomical Union (IAU)'s 28th General Assembly.

The hard X-ray band is a key waveband for high-energy astrophysics studies. Hard X-rays originate mostly from regions close to black holes and have high penetrative power, making them important tools for studying physical processes in extreme conditions, such as high matter density and high energy density.

Su said China will develop another satellite, the dark matter particle explorer (DAMPE), to help detect high-energy electrons and gamma rays, as well as a telescope to study the solar magnetic field and a Sino-French joint mission to study gamma ray bursts.

Su said Chinese scientists are also planning to establish an Antarctic astronomical observatory.

Cui Xiangqun, an academic at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and president of the Chinese Astronomical Society, said a lot of work has been done to gain experience for the future construction of an observatory in the Antarctic.

An Antarctic Survey Telescope (AST) was installed there at the beginning of the year and another AST will be installed in 2013, said Cui. China's first Antarctic telescope was installed in 2009.

"We can only send scientists there once a year and each time they can stay no more than three weeks. These telescopes help us detect problems via remote control," Cui said.

"Some of the technological problems we face there are similar to those in space, like low temperatures," Cui said.

However, Cui was optimistic about the Antarctic facility. "It has drier air, better visibility and fewer background disturbances. Its turbulent boundary layer is closer to the ground compared to other sites on the ice slope," she said while describing the area near the telescope.

Chinese space exploration has developed rapidly in the past decade. Some large-scale astronomical projects in China, including the Large Sky Multi-Object Fiber Spectroscopic Telescope (LAMOST) completed in 2008 and the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST) to be completed in 2016, have drawn global attention.

The ongoing conference, the first of its size to be held in China, is itself a historic occasion for the country.

"China's technology has advanced markedly, and some of its buildings are really world-class. The fact that we are meeting here is an indication that China has emerged in a short period of time to be competitive on the world stage in the science of astronomy," said Robert Williams, IAU president.