An X-ray sensitive satellite developed by astronomers at Leicester University is intending to shed light on the darkest secrets of black holes.
There are two types of black hole: small ones on the outer limit of the galaxy and big ones - 100 million times as large - of which there is one at the centre of the galaxy. As the gravitational pull of the black holes sucks in surrounding matter, tell-tale X-ray signals are emitted. Scientists at Leicester's space centre are building the so-called Jet-X instrument which will be able not only to take pictures of the X-ray sky but also measure the X-ray emissions. From the resulting spectral information, it should be possible to draw a map of black holes, pinpointing their number, size and location.
Jet-X will hitch a ride into space on the Pounds 100 million Russian Sepctrum X Gamma rocket launch. Problems with the Russian economy have put back the launch date by one year, but the Leicester instrument - which is being co-designed by researchers at Birmingham University - should be working 500 kilometres above the earth by 1998.