China, France to launch satellite to better understand the universe

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Jun 22, 2024, 11:24 AM


Jun 22, 2024, 11:24 AM

XICHANG - A French-Chinese satellite will blast off on June 22 on a hunt for the mightiest explosions in the universe, in a notable example of cooperation between a Western power and the Asian giant.

Developed by engineers from both countries, the Space Variable Objects Monitor (SVOM) will seek out gamma-ray bursts, the light from which has travelled billions of light years to reach Earth.

The 930kg satellite carrying four instruments – two French, two Chinese – will lift off aboard a Chinese Long March 2-C rocket from a space base in Xichang, in the southwestern province of Sichuan.

Gamma-ray bursts generally occur after the explosion of huge stars – those more than 20 times as big as the sun – or the fusion of compact stars.

The extremely bright cosmic beams can give off a blast of energy equivalent to over a billion suns.

Observing them is like “looking back in time, as the light from these objects takes a long time to reach us”, astrophysicist Ore Gottlieb at the Flatiron Institute’s Center for Astrophysics in New York, told AFP.

‘Several mysteries’

The rays carry traces of the gas clouds and galaxies they pass through on their journey through space – valuable data for better understanding the history and evolution of the universe.

“SVOM has the potential to unravel several mysteries in the field of (gamma-ray bursts), including detecting the most distant GRBs in the universe, which correspond to the earliest GRBs,” Dr Gottlieb said.

The most distant bursts identified to date were produced just 630 million years after the Big Bang – five percent of the current age of the universe.

“We are... interested in gamma-ray bursts for their own sake, because they are very extreme cosmic explosions which allow us...

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