A computer-generated image illustrates the Huiyan in orbit. Photo: China National Space Administration

China’s indigenous hard X-ray modulation telescope – the Huiyan, or Insight – was fired into orbit last June from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in northwestern China. Now, following six months of in-orbit and payload system tests, it has started scanning the universe for black holes, neutron stars and active galactic nuclei.

The Huiyan is one of only four x-ray and gamma ray telescopes currently in active service anywhere.

In early October, the Huiyan gave display of its capabilities as space-watchers around the world attempted to detect the gravitational waves – also known as ripples in the universe – produced by two neutron stars spiraling closer together and merging. The satellite located the source of the waves, some 130 million light years away. In September, it also observed, up close, an unusual solar flare erupting.

The Huiyan hard X-ray modulation telescope.

People’s Daily reported on Tuesday that the China National Space Administration, the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Tsinghua University are inviting international cooperation in the field of black hole research. This will leverage the 2.5-ton astronomy satellite’s many sensors – most notably, for telescope nerds, its array of 18 NaI slat-collimated “phoswich” scintillation detectors.

The Huiyan, developed by the Chinese Institute of High Energy Physics, was designed to observe energy-intensive light, such as x-rays, produced when extreme physical phenomena take place in space. The data observed by the telescope contain clues as to the structure of black holes and neutron stars.

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