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AstroSat: Canadian technology on board India's first space astronomy mission adds to unique view of the universe


A near-ultraviolet image of galaxy NGC 2336 captured by the UVIT instrument on board India's AstroSat observatory. Located 105 million light-years away from Earth, the galaxy's spiral arms contain several nebulae: hot star-forming regions that shine brightly in this wavelength. (Credit: UVIT team)

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Canada contributed the three sensitive detectors for the Ultraviolet Imaging Telescope (UVIT) instrument on board the Indian Space Research Organisation's AstroSat, India's first astronomy satellite dedicated to studying hot, high-energy objects in the universe like young stars and black holes.

AstroSat's design is both powerful and unique: it carries five instruments that can observe its targets in multiple wavelengths (from X-ray to visible light) at the same time.

The main science objectives of the AstroSat mission are to:

Canada's role in the mission

In partnership with the National Research Council Canada, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) co-led the development of three Canadian detectors for the UVIT instrument, AstroSat's twin ultraviolet (UV) and visible imaging telescopes. "This is a technology that Canada had never developed before," says Dr. John Hutchings of the National Research Council Canada, the principal investigator for Canada's contribution. "The detectors capture each photon of light as it arrives and record its location and time of arrival. These are then stored, and an image is created. The UVIT telescopes are far more capable than those flown previously, and can observe far larger areas of sky."

Canada's contribution entitles Canadian scientists to observation time on the satellite, which means opportunities for unique research by Canadian astronomers.

The CSA is funding Canadian universities to support investigations using data collected by AstroSat.

Researcher Institution Summary
Prof. Pauline Barmby Western University
  • Will combine AstroSat images of the ultraviolet light emitted by a sample of low surface brightness spiral galaxies with data from other telescopes to understand the current and past properties of these enigmatic galaxies and others.
Dr. Denis Leahy University of Calgary
  • Will study the stars, stellar clusters, structure and star formation history of the Andromeda Galaxy (M31), NGC 205 and five other nearby galaxies by combining UVIT and Hubble Space Telescope observations.
  • Will measure the structure of the Hercules X-1 X-ray binary source and investigate the structure of its accretion disk.
Dr. Erik Rosolowsky University of Alberta
  • Will use UVIT imaging to measure radiative heating in nearby galaxies and study how the absorbed light can disrupt star formation and even slow down or halt galaxy evolution.
Researcher Institution Summary
Dr. Patrick Côté University of Victoria
  • Will use the UVIT instrument to study galaxies in the Virgo Cluster to better understand star formation within cluster galaxies' environments.
Dr. Denis Leahy University of Calgary
  • Will use UVIT and X-ray observations to catalogue individual hot stars and star clusters in M31 (Andromeda Galaxy) to advance our understanding of M31 star populations and star formation history. NGC 205, a galaxy that is a nearby neighbour of M31, will also be studied.
  • Will investigate the X-ray close binary star system Hercules X-1 to investigate the structure of its accretion disk. This is one of the first X-ray pulsars discovered in early X-ray observations in the s.
Dr. Erik Rosolowsky University of Alberta
  • Will use UVIT data to map newly forming stars and their disruptive effect on star-forming dust clouds in a sample of nearby galaxies studied by the PHANGS (Physics at High Angular resolution in Nearby GalaxieS) collaboration.

Along with X-rays, UV wavelengths are the main sources of information from the hottest cosmic objects like black holes, hot white dwarfs, neutron stars and quasars. Ultraviolet light is mostly observable from space. Astronomers need to use space telescopes such as Hubble, GALEX and AstroSat to explore the universe in the ultraviolet.

Located about 800 million light-years away from Earth, galaxy cluster Abell 2256 is made up of smaller galaxy clusters that will eventually merge into one. Researchers are using UVIT to investigate the nature of individual galaxies in this cluster, including those in these enlarged images. (Credit: UVIT team/ISRO/CSA)


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