A satellite that was supposed to illuminate some of the biggest secrets of the universe is nowhere to be found.
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) announced that it has lost contact with its "Hitomi" satellite — a state-of-the-art X-ray observatory, developed in conjunction with NASA, to spy on energetic processes in space including black holes, massive galaxies, and exploding stars.
The Japanese space agency announced on March 27 that they had lost contact with the observatory on March 26, just a little more than a month after it was launched (February 17).
Members of the US Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC), a military organization that identifies and tracks space debris near Earth, said they spotted five objects drifting near the location of Hitomi at around the same time it lost communication with Earth, Nature reports.
This coincidence could mean space debris hit Hitomi, or that the craft broke up into several pieces in some other way.
Whatever the case, the level of damage to the spacecraft isn't yet known — but it's not looking good:
Correctly, JSpOC reported in the twitter that Hitomi separated into— JAXA Web (@JAXA_en) March 28, 2016
multiple pieces BEFORE March 26 0820 (UT).
About 40 JAXA technicians are currently scouring the skies to track down the expensive observatory.
Hitomi's mission was to help us better understand the structure of the universe by detecting and analyzing high-energy particles, which stream out of galaxy clusters, supernovae, and notoriously elusive black holes.
The craft was tasked with gathering data on how black holes develop and impact their surroundings, including the distortion of space-time during the mysterious "event horizon," or point of no return when a particle is irreparably lost to a black hole.
It also aimed to understand the creation and evolution of galaxy clusters, the birth of heavy elements, and the behavior of certain particles in extreme conditions.
The word "Hitomi" means "the pupil of the eye" — and we hope this eye hasn't gone dark for good.