What interesting things can be seen on x-rays of the universe?
One thing is certain: those looking for a truly cosmic spectacle cannot ignore the X-ray observations. “Most energetic phenomena in the universe emit X-rays,” says astronomer Elisa Costantini, who co-developed the instruments for the new telescope at the Dutch space research institute SRON.
You should be thinking of very hot gases, such as those near a black hole, or inside giant clusters of galaxies. Whereas other space telescopes, such as James Webb and Hubble, see mainly galaxies, Xrism sees mainly the hot gas in and around those galaxies.
The telescope’s findings could contribute to solving many cosmic mysteries: how clusters of galaxies come together, for example, why galactic winds blow inside galaxies, or how stars at the end of their lives blast matter out of their cores when they explode.
Costantini himself researches gases from giant black holes. While these cosmic monsters ruthlessly devour most of everything that gets entangled in their webs by gravity, many fly as well. This happens in great streams of matter that race out into the universe at dizzying speed.
In other words, black holes are chaotic eaters. But how exactly this works – what is the underlying mechanism, and the combination – is still unknown. “These are all questions that this telescope can answer,” she says.
There are already too many space telescopes hanging above the Earth. What should Xrism add?
“The research you can do with this telescope is not possible with older telescopes,” Costantini says. For example, the European XMM-Newton X-ray satellite is still active, but less sensitive to high-energy X-rays. If you want to study supermassive black holes or galaxy clusters, you need high-energy resolution.
Meanwhile, astronomers are already working on a successor to Xrism. The European Space Telescope Athena is scheduled to launch sometime in the next decade. “It will be much more sensitive and have a much higher resolution. So that you can capture X-rays with a greater number of pixels for all kinds of objects in the universe.”
The telescope is out at night from Sunday to Monday. Could things get much worse?
It’s only natural for anyone who’s worked on a musical instrument for years — Xrism has been developing it for more than seven years — to get a little nervous when it’s placed on a rocket stand filled with highly flammable rocket fluid. “The launch is inherently dangerous,” Costantini says. “So it’s definitely going to be exciting.”
Due to bad weather, Xrism’s departure was delayed twice by one day at the last minute. But if the departure on Monday evening aboard the Japanese Space Agency’s H-IIA rocket “JAXA” continues without any problems, the operation phase will begin. “It takes about three months. During that time we will check if everything works or not,” says Costantini.
When can we expect the first scientific results?
And when the telescope appears to be working properly after three months, what astronomers call “the first light” follows: a stunning image that proves the telescope’s capabilities.
“The researchers will then work on a larger scale with it,” Costantini says. XRism is mainly a Japanese tool, but the US NASA and the European European Space Agency have also contributed to its development. SRON supplied the Netherlands with two components: a so-called filter wheel, in collaboration with the University of Geneva, with which astronomers can spin filters in front of a camera and knock light at unwanted wavelengths out of the image, and X-rays. The source, developed in collaboration with Photonis, from which the detector is calibrated.
“Thank you for this contribution, Holland has been granted guaranteed access to the first measurement data from this instrument. I am sure that this telescope will yield many interesting discoveries.
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