Earlier Scientist Observing Space

Space the greatest, mysterious unexplored world. Using the Star-Trek phrase "The final frontier". From the beginning of human life on earth every human was magnified from the sky, stars that he was seeing at the night sky. Astronomers are now exploring mysterious phenomena like black holes and quasars.

Scientists are still not sure what black holes are, but some believe they may be ‘left-overs’ from exploded stars. They give off no light and are almost invisible. However, they have a very powerful gravitational pull, so pull space matter into them, a bit like water swirling down a plug hole.
Quasars are also a bit of a mystery! Scientists say they are small but incredibly powerful bright objects in space. They are believed to be the most powerful and distant objects in the Universe. The images taken of quasars by the Hubble Space Telescope look, to the untrained eye, like burning stars. Quasars are said to be 100,000 times smaller than a galaxy and yet give off more energy than a whole galaxy.

‘Black hole hunter’ telescope launched

Russian space rocket has blasted off from a base in Kazakhstan carrying a powerful new telescope into orbit to observe some of the Universe’s most violent events.
The Integral gamma-ray observatory - described as Europe’s “black hole hunter” - blasted off from Baikonur cosmodrome at 0441 GMT.
It will focus in on the exotic: not just black holes but supernovae, neutron stars, pulsars and so called gamma-ray bursters as well.
Gamma-rays are very high-energy light. The four instruments on board Integral (short for INTErnational Gamma Ray Astrophysics Laboratory) are designed to capture the gamma rays, X-rays and visible light simultaneously.

Quick response

Of particular interest will be the mysterious gamma-ray bursts, which flash across the sky above our heads at the rate of about one a day, but can disappear within a few seconds.
No-one can predict where the next will come from.
Integral’s task will be to locate gamma-ray bursts quickly and precisely, and, within about 30 seconds, to alert astronomers around the world so other telescopes can study them in detail.
Another of Integral’s key tasks will be to study the formation of the elements.

Fingers crossed

There is huge demand for its services - it was oversubscribed 20-fold in its first year.
Professor Giorgio Palumbo of the University of Bologna, Italy, mission scientist on Integral, is one of the astronomers who is anxiously awaiting the launch.

“I’m nervous more than excited,” he told the BBC. “When 10 years of your life are depending on a rocket that can blow up at any time in principle, then even if you are an atheist, you’re still praying.
“Until it’s up, you’re never relaxed. I do wake up wondering what will happen. But I am confident it will work - a lot of people have been working very hard for this and everything has gone very well.
He added: “What I’m really hoping is that a nearby supernova explodes. That would really be the reward of a lifetime. They’re very rare and we might not get one. But Integral is built for that, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

“If one could explode for Integral that would be fantastic. We’d learn about exploding stars, the formation of black holes or pulsars, about nuclear synthesis - it’s 90% of astrophysics in one blow. It’s a little Big Bang and very important.”

Testing theories

Integral’s been called Europe’s “black hole hunter” because it will scan along the galactic plane each week looking for new sources of gamma-rays, which could well be new black holes.
It will also study those already known in far more detail than previously possible.
John Credland, head of space science projects at the European Space Agency (Esa), says there could be new insights into relativity.

“Is it absolutely correct or are there deviations from it in the vicinity of black holes where there are very strong gravitational fields, which don’t occur anywhere else in the Universe?
“All this kind of stuff is open to speculation still and even within the Integral team many of the scientists have disparate views on this.”

Man’s curiosity

Integral will allow insights into the behaviour of black holes and register the gamma radiation emitted by fast-moving particles accelerated in the region around the black hole by the huge gravitational pull.
The experiments on board the spacecraft cost a total of around ?100m and the spacecraft itself cost three times that amount.

There are no obvious spin-offs from the research, but John Credland says it is well worth it.
“Mankind has a thirst for knowledge. Why are we going to do this? Because we haven’t done it before and we want to understand more. That’s just the curiosity of mankind.”

The spacecraft will be controlled from the European Space Operations Centre (Esoc) in Darmstadt, Germany, for the duration of its lifetime, expected to be two years minimum.

The Earth’s address (in case any space-creatures ask you...) is:
Earth,
Solar System,
Milkway Galaxy,
Universe.