France and China Launched Satellite to Explore Universe’s Most Powerful Explosions

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By Lydia Amazouz Published on June 22, 2024 09:30
France And China Launch Satellite To Explore Universe’s Most Powerful Explosions

In a remarkable display of international cooperation, France and China have launched a joint satellite to explore the most powerful explosions in the universe. The mission aims to study gamma-ray bursts, providing new insights into these intense astronomical phenomena. Here’s a detailed look at this groundbreaking project.

France-China Collaboration Launches SVOM Satellite to Study Gamma-Ray Bursts

On June 22, 2024, the 930kg (2,050-pound) Space Variable Objects Monitor (SVOM) satellite took off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre in China’s Sichuan province aboard a Chinese Long March 2C rocket. Developed collaboratively by the China National Space Administration (CNSA) and the French space agency CNES, SVOM is equipped with four instruments—two French and two Chinese—designed to detect and analyze gamma-ray bursts.

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Gamma-ray bursts are the universe's most energetic explosions, often resulting from the collapse of massive stars or the merging of neutron stars. These bursts release more energy in a few seconds than the sun will emit in its entire lifetime. “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,” said Ore Gottlieb, an astrophysicist at the Flatiron Institute’s Center for Computational Astrophysics in New York.

The Science Behind SVOM

Once in its low-Earth orbit at 625km (388 miles) above the planet, SVOM will monitor the sky for gamma-ray bursts and send alerts to ground-based observatories when these events are detected. The satellite's sophisticated instruments include the French-built ECLAIRs telescope, which will spot bursts in near-real time in the gamma and X-ray energy ranges, and a Chinese-made visible telescope to track light emitted in the visible range after the gamma-ray burst.

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Observing these bursts allows scientists to look back in time, as the light from these explosions takes billions of years to reach Earth. This mission is expected to detect 70 to 80 gamma-ray bursts each year, significantly enhancing our understanding of the universe's violent and dynamic processes. “The major challenge of the mission is to determine the origin of gamma-ray bursts,” said Bertrand Cordier, the mission’s French principal investigator from the Saclay Nuclear Research Centre near Paris. “What environment do they come from? At what period are they created?”

Significance of International Collaboration

This mission marks a significant step in international space cooperation, especially between Western powers and China. The partnership between CNSA and CNES began in 1997, focusing on the peaceful use of outer space. “We’ve been through ups and downs, but the strength of this cooperation is the team spirit between the Chinese and French people,” said François Gonzalez, SVOM’s French project manager at CNES.

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The collaboration extends beyond this mission. In 2018, the China-France Oceanography Satellite was launched, allowing for more accurate ocean forecasts and earlier warnings of severe weather events. Recently, a French instrument was included in China’s Chang’e-6 mission to the far side of the moon, marking another milestone in the scientific partnership.

Future Implications

The data collected by SVOM will not only advance our understanding of gamma-ray bursts but also contribute to broader astrophysical research. By studying these extreme events, scientists hope to gain insights into the conditions of the early universe, the behavior of matter under extreme conditions, and the fundamental processes governing cosmic evolution.

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This collaboration highlights the importance of international partnerships in advancing space exploration and scientific discovery. As space agencies continue to work together, missions like SVOM will pave the way for future endeavors that push the boundaries of our knowledge and capabilities.

The successful launch and operation of SVOM represent a significant achievement for both France and China, demonstrating the potential for global cooperation in the quest to explore and understand the universe.

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An editor specializing in astronomy and space industry, passionate about uncovering the mysteries of the universe and the technological advances that propel space exploration.

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