Japan's Black Hole-Hunting Telescope May Be In Trouble

Hitomi oh my

hitomi ASTRO-H satellite

ASTRO-H, a.k.a. Hitomi

The space telescope was meant to scan the skies for x-rays over the next three years, but Japanese scientists have lost contact with it.JAXA

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has lost contact with its ASTRO-H space telescope, a.k.a. "Hitomi," and it may be tumbling out of control.

The satellite launched in February to scan the cosmos for x-rays that can reveal the large-scale structure of the universe, including the goings-on of black holes, galactic clusters, and dark matter.

JAXA lost communications with the satellite this weekend.

Shortly before the loss of communications with Hitomi, the U.S. military’s space tracking radars detected five objects in the vicinity of the satellite. The Joint Space Operations Center, the U.S. military command charged with monitoring objects in orbit, said the debris came off the Hitomi spacecraft around 0520 GMT (1:20 a.m. EDT) Sunday.

It's not clear exactly what happened to the satellite, but scientists have a few guesses. Orbital debris might have smacked into Hitomi and knocked a few pieces loose, or the satellite itself might have suffered some sort of explosion from the inside.

Although communications are down, JAXA did receive a brief signal from Hitomi after the debris was detected. Hope is not lost yet, and the agency is working to recover communications.