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China Focus: China launches space telescope to search for black holes, pulsars

By Xinhua writers Yu Fei, Quan Xiaoshu and Qu Ting

JIUQUAN, June 15 (Xinhua) — China launched its first X-ray space telescope to observe black holes, pulsars and gamma-ray bursts, via a Long March-4B rocket from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China’s Gobi Desert at 11 a.m. Thursday.
China launches space telescope to search for black holes
The 2.5-tonne Hard X-ray Modulation Telescope (HXMT), dubbed Insight, was sent into an orbit of 550 kilometers above the earth to help scientists better understand the evolution of black holes, and the strong magnetic fields and the interiors of pulsars.

Through the telescope, scientists will also study how to use pulsars for spacecraft navigation, and search for gamma-ray bursts corresponding to gravitational waves.

The result of the wisdom and efforts of several generations of Chinese scientists, Insight is expected to push forward the development of space astronomy and improve space X-ray detection technology in China.


Insight can be regarded as a small observatory in space, as it carries a trio of detectors — the high energy X-ray telescope (HE), the medium energy X-ray telescope (ME) and the low energy X-ray telescope (LE) — that cover a broad energy band from 1 keV to 250 keV, said Lu Fangjun, chief designer of the payload.

Based on the demodulation technique first proposed by Li Tipei, an academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), in 1993, the HE has a total detection area of more than 5,000 square centimeters, the world’s largest in its energy band.

“Given it has a larger detection area than other X-ray probes, HXMT can identify more features of known sources,” said Xiong Shaolin, a scientist at the Institute of High Energy Physics of the CAS.

Chen Yong, chief designer of the LE, said X-rays of lower energy usually have more photons, so a telescope based on a focusing technique is not suitable for observing very bright objects emitting soft X-rays, as too many photons at a time will result in over-exposure.

But HXMT won’t have that problem, as its collimators diffuse photons instead of focusing them. “No matter how bright the sources are, our telescope won’t be blinded,” said Chen.

According to Zhang Shuangnan, HXMT lead scientist, the satellite’s developers found that a set of HXMT high-energy detectors, originally designed to shield background noises caused by unwanted X-ray photons, especially those from behind the telescope, could be adjusted to observe gamma-ray bursts.

The creative new function pushes the satellite’s observation band up to 3 MeV and will get a very good energy spectrum, Zhang said.


“We are looking forward to discovering new activities of black holes and studying the state of neutron stars under extreme gravity and density conditions, and physical laws under extreme magnetic fields. These studies are expected to bring new breakthroughs in physics,” said Zhang.

Compared with X-ray astronomical satellites of other countries, HXMT has a larger detection area, broader energy range and wider field of view. These give it advantages in observing black holes and neutron stars emitting bright X-rays, and it can more efficiently scan the galaxy, Zhang said.

Other satellites have conducted sky surveys and found many celestial sources of X-rays. However, the sources are often variable, and occasional intense flares can be missed in just one or two surveys, according to Zhang.
New surveys can discover either new X-ray sources or new activities in known sources. So HXMT will repeatedly scan the Milky Way for active and variable celestial bodies emitting X-rays.
“There are so many black holes and neutron stars in the universe, but we don’t have a thorough understanding of any of them. So we need new satellites to observe more,” Zhang said.

Black holes remain a mystery. One of their many secrets is why they get “angry.”

“Black holes will be the focus of our observation since they are very interesting, and can generate various types of radiation, including X-rays and high energy cosmic rays, as well as strong jets,” said Zhang.

So far about 20 black holes have been found in our galaxy. “We hope our telescope can discover more black holes. We also hope to better observe the black holes already discovered.”

If a black hole does nothing, it cannot be found. But if matter falls into a black hole, it is accelerated and heated during the process, emitting X-rays. Scientists might learn more about the characteristics of black holes from the X-rays.

Some times a black hole is calm, but other times it’s very “bad tempered.” When a black hole gets “angry,” it generates very strong X-rays or gamma ray bursts or jet-flows, Zhang explained.

Other countries have sent several X-ray satellites into orbit, but most are suitable for observing only relatively calm black holes. However, HXMT is suitable for observing angry black holes and neutron stars.

“We are still not clear why some black holes suddenly get angry, since we haven’t observed them for long enough,” he said. “We plan to make a thorough survey of black holes and neutron stars in the galaxy.”

A neutron star, or a pulsar, is so strange that when the first one was discovered, it was mistaken for signals from aliens. There are still many mysteries about this kind of star.

“We are still not clear about the interiors of pulsars. Current physical laws cannot describe the substances in the state of a pulsar well, since no lab on Earth can create a density as high as a pulsar. So we have to conduct more observations of pulsars,” Zhang said.

With their super strong gravitational and electromagnetic fields and high density, pulsars are regarded as natural laboratories of extreme physical conditions. Scientists could study many phenomena that they cannot replicate on Earth by observing neutron stars.


Since the detection of gravitational waves, scientists have been eager to find electromagnetic signals corresponding to the gravitational waves. This will be an important task for Insight.
Xiong said the position accuracy of all the gravitational wave events detected so far is still very poor.

If scientists can find electromagnetic signals happening at similar positions and times of gravitational wave events, it would increase the reliability of the detection. Combined analysis of gravitational wave and electromagnetic signals will help reveal more about the celestial bodies emitting gravitational waves, said Xiong.

Some scientists suspect that mysterious gamma-ray bursts could be electromagnetic signals corresponding to gravitational waves.

“Since gravitational waves were detected, the study of gamma-ray bursts has become more important. In astrophysics, it’s insufficient to study just the gravitational wave signals. We need to use the corresponding electromagnetic signals, which are more familiar to astronomers, to facilitate the research on gravitational waves,” Zhang said.

HXMT’s effective detection area for monitoring gamma-ray bursts is 10 times that of the US Fermi space telescope. Scientists estimate that HXMT could detect almost 200 gamma-ray burst events a year.

“HXMT can play a vital role in searching for electromagnetic signals corresponding to gravitational waves,” said Zhang. “If HXMT can detect electromagnetic signals corresponding to gravitational waves, it would be its most wonderful scientific finding.”

“Our telescope may discover new phenomena, or even new celestial bodies. We are looking forward to new findings that nobody can predict. I hope my predictions are wrong since the most interesting astronomical discoveries are all out of expectations.”


CAS academician Gu Yidong said China still lags behind advanced levels in space science. “We should have a sense of urgency. It will take efforts to upgrade China’s space science to advanced levels within two decades.”

Arvind Parmar, head of the Scientific Support Office in the Science Directorate of European Space Agency (ESA), said HXMT will study X-rays from objects such as black holes, neutron stars and the remains of exploded stars. These are exciting topics for scientists all over the world. HMXT will join X-ray satellites already in operation. Each mission has its own strengths.

He said the ESA has a long history of collaborating with China on scientific missions. Once HXMT is launched and starts making observations, there is great potential for joint investigations with some ESA missions. Many scientific investigations benefit from data from more than one satellite.

“I am really impressed with how China is developing its scientific space program. The recent launches of the Dark Matter Particle Explorer and the Quantum Experiments at Space Scale missions highlight China’s capabilities and commitment to science as does the range of missions under study for future launch opportunities,” said Parmar.

Paolo Giommi, a senior scientist at the Italian Space Agency, said China’s space science program foresees several satellites of increasing complexity and competitiveness. Together with the construction of large ground-based facilities, this will make China one of the major definitive producers of knowledge in space science.

Turkey Wants U.S. Envoy On Islamic State Removed Over Kurdish Policy

May 18, 2017

By Daren Butler and Humeyra Pamuk

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey said on Thursday the U.S. special envoy in the battle against Islamic State should be removed because he supported Kurdish militants, and warned that Ankara would act unilaterally if it faced attack from the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia.

The comments, which followed a White House meeting on Tuesday between President Tayyip Erdogan and U.S. President Donald Trump, reflected Turkish anger at Trump’s decision to arm YPG fighters who are part of a force aiming to recapture the Islamic State-held Syrian city of Raqqa.

Ankara regards the YPG militia as an extension of Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants fighting a decades-old insurgency in southeast Turkey, while Washington sees the YPG as its most reliable ally for the Raqqa campaign.

Turkey has long complained that U.S. policy against Islamic State in Syria has favored the YPG over Arab rebel forces, a policy that Turkish officials believe is driven partly by Washington’s envoy to the international coalition against the jihadist group.

“Brett McGurk, the USA’s special envoy in the fight against Daesh (Islamic State), is definitely and clearly giving support to the PKK and YPG. It would be beneficial if this person is changed,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told NTV television.

The United States and the European Union, along with Turkey, designate the PKK a terrorist organization.

Erdogan, speaking to reporters at the Turkish embassy in Washington after the talks with Trump, said he told the U.S. president that Turkey would not hesitate to strike if it faced any sort of attack from the YPG, Turkish media reported.

“We clearly told them this: if there is any sort of attack from the YPG and PYD against Turkey, we will implement the rules of engagement without asking anyone,” Sabah newspaper cited him as saying. The PYD is the YPG’s political arm.

Erdogan did not specify what measures he might order, but said Turkey had shown its fighting capabilities when Turkish forces and Syrian rebels seized territory in northern Syria last year, pushing back Islamic State fighters and prompting a limited withdrawal of the YPG militia.

“Indeed we did this in Rai, Jarablus, al-Bab. Turkey showed what it can do,” Erdogan said. “We will not give terrorist groups breathing space domestically or abroad.”


Cavusoglu said Trump had understood Turkey’s position, and did not challenge Erdogan when the Turkish president set out his possible response to the YPG.

Last month, Turkish warplanes bombed Kurdish fighters in Iraq’s Sinjar region and YPG militia in Syria, drawing rebuke from Washington which voiced concern over the air strikes and said they harmed the coalition’s fight against Islamic State.

Erdogan said that the United States had made its decision on conducting the Raqqa operation – despite Ankara’s opposition – and that Turkey could not participate given the YPG involvement.

“We told them … we do not regard your cooperation with a terrorist group in Raqqa as healthy,” he was cited as saying.

But he said he expected a role for Turkey in Syria, and repeated Turkey’s assertion that once Raqqa was retaken from Islamic State, Kurdish forces could not be left in control of an Arab city. “I believe they will knock on our door on the subject of Syria,” he said.

The tensions with Washington over the YPG come as Turkey’s relations with the European Union, and Germany in particular, have also deteriorated.

Turkey has prevented German parliamentarians visiting its Incirlik airbase, where 250 German troops are based as part of a mission which includes German surveillance planes supporting the campaign against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday the German government had been evaluating possible alternatives to Incirlik and was considering moving the troops to Jordan.

Priyanka Chopra’s Baywatch gets its first review, and it comes from an unlikely source

The first review for Priyanka Chopra’s Hollywood debut Baywatch has arrived, and it comes from the unlikeliest of sources, former American football player Troy Polamalu.

Priyanka Chopra’s debut Hollywood film Baywatch is due out in India on June 2. But it will release in the US on the May 26, directly clashing with Johnny Depp’s Pirates of the Caribbean 5. While the film has been screened for audiences (user reactions have been cropping up online since the Las Vegas CinemaCon in March), the embargo on professional reviews hasn’t been lifted. But one reaction has been endorsed by the film’s official Twitter page, and it comes from former American football star Troy Polamalu.

Previously, Priyanka Chopra also called the film “freaking amazing” but warned parents to not take their children because it was a hard R-rated movie.

Baywatch is a reboot of the hugely popular TV show from the ‘90s starring David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson. The film stars Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Kelly Rohrabach, Ilfenesh Hadera, Jon Bass and Alexandra Daddario as lifeguards and Priyanka Chopra as the evil villain they must stop from taking over their beach.

The movie generated more social media conversations over the last week than any other film, reported Variety. Baywatch also has a 6.4/10 rating on IMDb from 281 ratings, although the veracity of IMDb ratings is always dubious.

Daring Kidman is the queen of Cannes

PARIS-Nicole Kidman is the undisputed queen of the Cannes film festival which opens Wednesday in the French Riviera resort, starring in three of its most eagerly awaited films. The Australian actress is in two in the running for its top prize, the Palme d’Or, and plays a fashion and music maven in “How to Talk to Girls at Parties” in the official selection. The film, adapted from a Neil Gaiman short story, has Kidman adopting Elle Fanning’s alien as her protege.


Kidman also shows her trademark mix of hauteur and vulnerability as a pent-up governess of a Mississippi girls school in Sofia Coppola’s highly touted remake of “The Beguiled”.

The film, set against the backdrop of the American Civil War, has Colin Farrell as an injured Union soldier who seduces Kidman’s charges and drives her wild with desire. She teams up with the Irish actor again in Greek maestro Yorgos Lanthimos’s “The Killing of a Sacred Deer”, this time as his wife in the story of a surgeon who gets disastrously drawn into the life of a dysfunctional family.

While the 49-year-old has never won a prize at Cannes, she has long been a festival favourite, taking a string of arthouse roles even after becoming one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars after her split from her first husband Tom Cruise.

It was one of many reinventions that have taken the high-school dropout from Australian teen movies like “BMX Bandits” to the top of her profession.

Kidman has never lacked daring, risking working with the notorious Danish auteur Lars Von Trier, who was later banned from Cannes after saying he was a Nazi.

“One day it would be a fairy tale, the next it a nightmare,” she said of working with him on “Dogville”. Others told how she had to grin and bear humiliations and mind games on the set.

Even when she was headlining big-budget blockbusters like “Batman Forever” in 1995, Kidman made time for whip-smart roles in indie films like Gus Van Sant’s satire on fame, “To Die For”, which confirmed her as a major talent. But she had to wait until 2003 for a best actress Oscar for her depiction of tortured novelist Virginia Woolf in Stephen Daldry’s “The Hours”.

Two more nominations have followed, the latest for “Lion” last year.

Its storyline, of a young man from India adopted by an Australian family who searches for his long-lost relatives on Google Earth, resonated with Kidman.

She adopted two children – Isabella and Connor – with Tom Cruise, and has had two others since with New Zealand-born country singer Keith Urban.

She said she felt an immediate connection with the woman she portrayed, Sue Brierley.

“I told her a lot about myself, and it was almost like she already knew,” Kidman said. “I just felt ever since I was young that I was going to adopt a child,” she added.

Kidman was born in Honolulu where her psychologist father was working at the time, and her family returned to Australia when she was four, where took to drama from a young age, eventually quitting school to study acting.