TAIYUAN               -            China sent a new Earth observation satellite into space from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in northern China’s Shanxi Province at 7:52 a.m. Thursday (Beijing Time).

The satellite, Gaofen-12, was launched aboard a Long March-4C rocket and entered the planned orbit successfully. It was the 320th flight mission of the Long March carrier rocket series.

As part of the country’s high-definition earth observation project, the microwave remote sensing satellite is capable of providing photographs with a resolution of better than a meter.

Gaofen-12 will be used in land surveys, urban planning, road network design and crop yield estimate, as well as disaster relief. It can also serve projects along the Belt and Road.

Both the satellite and the carrier rocket were developed by the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology under the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation.

Meanwhile, a Chinese-led research team has discovered a surprisingly huge stellar black hole about 14,000 light-years from Earth -- our “backyard” of the universe -- forcing scientists to re-examine how such black holes form.

The Milky Way galaxy is estimated to contain 100 million stellar black holes -- cosmic bodies formed by the collapse of massive stars and so dense even light can’t escape. Until now, scientists had estimated the mass of an individual stellar black hole in our galaxy at no more than 20 times that of the Sun.

But the new discovery has toppled that assumption.

The team, headed by Liu Jifeng, of the National Astronomical Observatory of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (NAOC), spotted the black hole, which has a mass 70 times greater than the Sun. Researchers named the monster black hole LB-1.

The discovery was a big surprise. “Black holes of such mass should not even exist in our galaxy, according to most of the current models of stellar evolution,” said Liu.

“We thought that very massive stars with the chemical composition typical of our galaxy must shed most of their gas in powerful stellar winds, as they approach the end of their life.

Therefore, they should not leave behind such a massive remnant. LB-1 is twice as massive as what we thought possible. Now theorists will have to take up the challenge of explaining its formation.”

Until a few years ago, stellar black holes could only be discovered when they gobbled up gas from a companion star. This process creates powerful X-ray emissions, detectable from Earth, which reveal the presence of the collapsed object.

The vast majority of stellar black holes in our galaxy are not engaged in a cosmic banquet though, and thus don’t emit revealing X-rays. As a result, only about 20 galactic stellar black holes have been accurately identified and measured.

To counter this limitation, Liu and his team surveyed the sky with China’s Large Sky Area Multi-Object Fiber Spectroscopic Telescope (LAMOST), looking for stars that orbit an invisible object, pulled by its gravity.

This observational technique was first proposed by the visionary English scientist John Michell in 1783, but it has only become feasible with recent technological improvements in telescopes and detectors.

Still, such a search is like looking for a needle in a haystack: only one star in a thousand might be circling a black hole.