Some people stay up all night for movie premieres, for rock concerts, or for sporting events. I stay up all night watching rocket launches. Or at least that is what I am doing tonight.

Just before 4:00am Eastern Time the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency launched a rocket carrying its sixth scientific satellite from the Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima, Japan, and in the next few hours it will deploy the ASTRO-H experiment into orbit. And if all goes well, it will be providing astronomers and astrophysicists with some of the most interesting data yet on a wide variety of high energy astrophysical processes.

ASTRO-H is a space telescope, but instead of measuring the visible light range or radio waves, it is equipped with four photon detectors which will be able to detect electromagnetic radiation ranging from 300eV soft x-rays, up to 600keV gamma rays (although technically, anything about 80keV will be detected but not focused into an image). And while there have been previous satellite experiments that could measure high energy photons, the ASTRO-H detectors are at least an order of magnitude more sensitive to the faintest sources in the galaxy.

This means that ASTRO-H will be able to take photographs of the x-ray and gamma-rays produced in a number of high energy cosmic processes, such as black hole formation and evolution, or even something as large as collisions of distant galaxies. It should also be capable of pin-pointing the sources of some gamma-ray bursts and perhaps give astrophysicists more information on their origins. 

Whatever it produces, it is sure to be the subject of a great deal of new and interesting research. Today's launch is the start of a new generation of high energy astrophysics data, and I cannot wait to see what new and amazing phenomena it will unveil!