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Missions: India launches first astronomy satellite.

Indian astrophysics got a boost on September 28th when the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) launched the Astrosat spacecraft into a low-altitude orbit. The multipurpose observatory will study the universe across the X-ray spectrum, accompanied by simultaneous visible- and ultraviolet-light observations.

India has successfully sent spacecraft to the Moon and Mars and, more recently, has lofted X-ray detectors aboard high-altitude balloons and suborbital sounding rockets. But this is ISRO's first astronomical satellite. It's capable of studying everything from nearby white dwarfs, pulsars, and supernova remnants to faraway galaxy clusters. Its data will be available to the Indian astronomy community via proposals for observations.

Astrosat's five instruments each observes a different wavelength range. They comprise low-resolution X-ray spectral instruments, a binocular Ritchey-Chretien telescope, and a detector with a huge 10[degrees]-by-90[degrees] field of view that will scan the sky for transient X-ray sources.

The project is essentially a combination of NASA's Swift and now-retired Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer (RXTE) satellites. Like Swift, Astrosat will hunt for X-ray transients and observe these sources across the visible-to-X-ray spectrum. And like RXTE, Astrosat will measure the arrival time of each photon. Its Large Area Xenon Proportional Counters (LAXPC) have the largest collecting area of any X-ray instrument ever built, and it's currently the only one capable of studying X-ray fluctuations over millisecond time scales.

Astrosat joins several other X-ray observatories already in orbit: Chandra makes out fine details in low-energy X-ray images, NuSTAR brings high-energy X-rays into sharp focus, Swift monitors the sky for distant explosions bright in X-rays and gamma rays, and ESA's XMM-Newton is a light bucket for low-energy X-rays.

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Title Annotation:News Notes; Astrosat
Author:Dickinson, David
Publication:Sky & Telescope
Article Type:Brief article
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Jan 1, 2016
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