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China, France launch satellite to better understand the universe

AFP – A French-Chinese satellite blasted off yesterday 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) is carrying four instruments – two French, two Chinese – that will seek out gamma-ray bursts, the light from which has travelled billions of light years to reach Earth.

The 930-kilogramme satellite “successfully” took off around 3.00pm aboard a Chinese Long March 2-C rocket from a space base in Xichang, in southwestern Sichuan province, China’s National Space Administration said.

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 more than a billion suns.

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

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.

A Long March 2-C rocket carrying a satellite. PHOTO: AFP