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 of the energetic phenomena in the universe emit X-rays, says astronomer Elisa Costantini, who co-developed the new telescope’s instruments from the Dutch Space Research Institute Srön.
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 primarily the hot gas in and around those galaxies.
About the author
Georg van Hall writes for De Volkskrant about astronomy, physics and space travel. He has published books on everything from the universe to the smallest, most basic elements of reality.
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 expel material from their interiors when they explode.
Costantini himself researches gases from giant black holes. While these cosmic monsters ruthlessly consume most of everything that gets entangled in their webs by gravity, the need for them also vanishes. 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 exactly how this works – what is the underlying mechanism, and what is the structure – 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 become much more sensitive and will have a much higher resolution.” So that you can capture X-rays with more pixels of 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 that anyone who’s worked on a musical instrument for many years — Xrism has been developing it for more than seven years — feels a bit nervous when it’s placed on a rocket stand filled with highly flammable rocket fluid. “A launch is dangerous by definition,” 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. This takes about three months. “During that time we will check if everything is working,” Costantini says.
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 basically a Japanese tool, but the US NASA and the European European Space Agency also contributed to its development. Sron supplied two components to the Netherlands: a so-called filter wheel, in collaboration with the University of Geneva, which astronomers can use to spin filters in front of the camera and remove unwanted wavelengths of light from the image, and an X-ray source, which was developed in collaboration with Photonis, which is calibrated by the detector.
“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, many interesting discoveries.
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