Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

X-ray Observatory 'Spare-time' Provides Impressive Sky Survey

Date:
May 3, 2006
Source:
European Space Agency
Summary:
For the past four years, while ESA's XMM-Newton X-ray observatory has been slewing between different targets ready for the next observation, it has kept its cameras open and used this spare time to quietly look at the heavens. The result is a 'free-of-charge' mission spin-off -- a survey that has now covered an impressive 25 percent of the sky.

In its on-going slew survey of the sky, XMM-Newton is able to map with high efficiency very large sky features. Among these, is the 20 000 year-old Vela supernova remnant (right) - occupying a sky area 150 times larger than the full moon. This object is compared here with an image previously taken by the former ROSAT mission (left).
Credit: s: ESA/ROSAT

For the past four years, while ESA’s XMM-Newton X-ray observatory has been slewing between different targets ready for the next observation, it has kept its cameras open and used this spare time to quietly look at the heavens. The result is a 'free-of-charge' mission spin-off – a survey that has now covered an impressive 25 percent of the sky.

The rapid slewing of the satellite across the sky means that a star or a galaxy passes in the field of view of the telescope for ten seconds only. However, the great collecting area of the XMM-Newton mirrors, coupled with the efficiency of its image sensors, is allowing thousands of sources to be detected.

Furthermore, XMM-Newton can pinpoint the position of X-rays coming from the sky with a resolution far superior to that available for most previous all-sky surveys. This is sufficient to allow the source of these X-rays to be found in many cases.

By comparing XMM-Newton survey’s data with those obtained over a decade ago by the international ROSAT mission, which also performed an all-sky survey, scientists can now check the long-term stability, or the evolution, of about two thousand objects in the sky.
An initial look shows that some sources have changed their brightness level by an incredible amount. The most extreme of these are variable stars and more surprisingly galaxies, whose unusual volatility may be due to large quantities of matter being consumed by an otherwise dormant central black hole.

The slew survey is particularly sensitive to active galactic nuclei (AGN) - galaxies with an unusually bright nucleus – which can be traced out to a distance of ten thousand million light years.

While most stars and galaxies look like points in the sky, about 15 percent of the sources catalogued by XMM-Newton have an extended X-ray emission. Most of these are clusters of galaxies - gigantic conglomerations of galaxies which trap hot gas that emit X-rays over scales of a million light years.
Eighty-one of these clusters are already famous from earlier work but many other clusters, previously unknown, appear in this new XMM-Newton sky catalogue.

Scientists hope that the newly detected sources of this kind also include very distant clusters which are highly luminous in X-rays, as these objects are invaluable for investigating the evolution of the Universe. Follow-up observations by large optical telescopes are now needed to determine the distances of the individual galaxies in the newly discovered clusters.

Using traditional pointed observations, it takes huge amounts of telescope-time to image very large sky features, such as old supernova remnants, in their entirety. The slewing mechanism provides a very efficient method of mapping these objects, and several have been imaged including the 20 000 year-old Vela supernova remnant, which occupies a sky area 150 times larger than the full moon.

Extraordinarily bright, low-mass X-ray binary systems of stars (called 'LMXB') – either powered by matter pulled from a normal star, or exploding onto the surface of a neutron star, or being consumed by a black hole - are observed with sufficient sensitivity to record their detailed light spectrum. Passes across these intense X-ray sources can help astronomers to understand the long-term physics of the interaction between the two stars of the binary system.

Many areas of astronomy are expected to be influenced by the XMM-Newton sky survey. Today, 3 May 2006, the XMM-Newton scientist have released a part of the catalogue resulting from the initial processing of the highest quality data obtained so far.

Such data correspond to a sky coverage of about 15 percent, and include more than 2700 very bright sources and a further 2000 sources of lower significance. Currently, about 55 percent of the catalogue entries have been identified with known stars, galaxies, quasars and clusters of galaxies.

A faster turn-around of slew-data processing is now planned to catch interesting transient (or temporary) targets in the act, before they have a chance to fade. This will give access to rare, energetic events, which only a sensitive wide-angle survey such as XMM-Newton’s can achieve.

It is planned to continually update the catalogue as XMM-Newton charts its way through the stars. This will cover at least 80 percent of the sky, leaving a tremendous legacy for the future.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by European Space Agency. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

European Space Agency. "X-ray Observatory 'Spare-time' Provides Impressive Sky Survey." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 May 2006. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/05/060503172047.htm>.
European Space Agency. (2006, May 3). X-ray Observatory 'Spare-time' Provides Impressive Sky Survey. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/05/060503172047.htm
European Space Agency. "X-ray Observatory 'Spare-time' Provides Impressive Sky Survey." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/05/060503172047.htm (accessed October 21, 2014).

Share This



More Space & Time News

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Comet Siding Spring Grazes Mars' Atmosphere

Comet Siding Spring Grazes Mars' Atmosphere

Newsy (Oct. 19, 2014) A comet from the farthest reaches of the solar system passed extremely close to Mars this weekend, giving astronomers a rare opportunity to study it. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Latin America Launches Communications Satellite

Latin America Launches Communications Satellite

AFP (Oct. 17, 2014) Argentina launches a home-built satellite, a first for Latin America. It will ride a French-made Ariane 5 rocket into orbit, and will provide cell phone, digital TV, Internet and data services to the lower half of South America. Duration: 00:41 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
This Week @ NASA, October 17, 2014

This Week @ NASA, October 17, 2014

NASA (Oct. 17, 2014) Power spacewalk, MAVEN’s “First Light”, Hubble finds extremely distant galaxy and more... Video provided by NASA
Powered by NewsLook.com
Saturn's 'Death Star' Moon Might Have A Hidden Ocean

Saturn's 'Death Star' Moon Might Have A Hidden Ocean

Newsy (Oct. 17, 2014) The smallest of Saturn's main moons, Mimas, wobbles as it orbits. Research reveals it might be due to a global ocean underneath its icy surface. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Space & Time

Matter & Energy

Computers & Math

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins