At its meeting in Paris today, the Science Programme Committee of the European Space Agency (ESA) selected the “The Hot and Energetic Universe” as the theme for its next Large (L-class) mission, which is expected to be launched in 2028.
The proposed Athena X-ray observatory will provide critical answers to the questions: How did ordinary matter assemble into the large scale structures we see today? How do black holes grow and shape the Universe?
© Athena collaboration
The theme was proposed by an international collaboration led by Kirpal Nandra, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics (MPE). Having made a compelling case for this exciting topic, the same team is now poised to propose a new mission concept to address some of the most pressing questions in modern astrophysics.
The Advanced Telescope for High-energy Astrophysics (Athena) would provide the necessary angular and spectral resolution, throughput, detection sensitivity, and survey grasp to revolutionize our understanding of why the Universe looks the way it does.
How did ordinary matter assemble into the large scale structures that we see today? How did black holes grow and shape the Universe? These are some of the most important unanswered questions in modern astrophysics, and the next large ESA mission could provide critical answers.
“We are very pleased that ESA has decided that the ‘Hot and Energetic Universe’ will be one of its main mission targets”, says Nandra, spokesperson for the science theme and chair of the Athena collaboration, who prepared this science theme in a White Paper. “We have a superb team of astrophysicists who made a compelling case for this exciting topic. But our job is not over - now we need to keep working to define the X-ray telescope that will provide us with the answers.”
Hot gas is actually the dominant form of ordinary matter in the Universe, and is responsible for the largest coherent structures that we know today: clusters of galaxies. With temperatures of more than ten million degrees, the gas emits copiously at X-ray wavelengths. The key to understanding the formation and evolution of these structures is to build an X-ray space observatory that combines high sensitivity, i.e. large throughput and good angular resolution, high spectral resolution and a wide field of view. Athena was designed with exactly this goal in mind. With such a telescope, astronomers could obtain spectroscopic observations of distant galaxies and map the physical parameters of the largest bound objects – information that would dramatically advance our understanding of how hot gas structures started to assemble and form when the Universe was in its infancy. Mapping the velocities, thermodynamics and chemical composition of the hot gas and tracking it through cosmic time would also allow the scientists to understand the complex astrophysical processes such as non-gravitational heating and turbulence which are crucial to understanding the development of ordinary matter structures.
With an X-ray telescope like Athena, the astronomers could also look even further back into the history of the Universe to study its most energetic events and discover the first supermassive black holes, out to a time when the first galaxies were forming, less than one billion years after the Big Bang. Because of the extremely high temperatures and the huge energies deposited by matter as it falls into a black hole, X-ray emission is the most reliable and complete way of revealing such accreting monsters. Remarkably, processes originating close to the black hole seem able to influence galaxies and galaxy clusters on scales up to a billion times larger– this “cosmic feedback” is therefore an essential ingredient of galaxy evolution models, but it is not yet well understood. "These black holes release enough energy to blow an entire galaxy apart", said Nandra.
Tracking the growth of supermassive black holes through cosmic time, in the earliest epoch of galaxy formation (at z=6-10) is impossible with current instrumentation. “We now have the X-ray optics technologies to provide the required leap in collecting area and angular resolution for wide field X-ray imaging,” says Nandra. “Over the past years at MPE we have been continuously developing our X-ray detectors for exactly this opportunity. Now there is the chance to use them to map the X-ray Universe with exquisite sensitivity over unparalleled sky areas. The earliest supermassive black holes are within our grasp.”Now that the science theme has been accepted by ESA, the next step will be a call for an X-ray observatory able to achieve the science goals. As the proposers of the theme and with the required technologies in hand, the Athena team are confident their mission will make the grade. Once a mission concept has been selected there is expected to be a period of 3-4 years to consolidate the technology development. It will take another 10 years or so to build the observatory. In 2028, Athena should start to reveal the Hot and Energetic Universe in unprecedented detail, and to provide the answer to that most basic question – why does the Universe look like it does today?
The authors of the White Paper making the case for the “Hot and Energetic Universe” comprise 140 scientists from more than 20 countries worldwide. Key participating institutes in Germany include MPE, the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-University Bonn, the Friedrich-Alexander-University Erlangen-Nuremberg, and the Eberhard Karls University Tübingen.
ContactProf. Dr. Kirpal Nandra
Mobile: +49-151-41943953Prof. Dr. Jörn Wilms
Dr. Hannelore Hämmerle | Max-Planck-Institute
Move over, lasers: Scientists can now create holograms from neutrons, too
21.10.2016 | National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
Finding the lightest superdeformed triaxial atomic nucleus
20.10.2016 | The Henryk Niewodniczanski Institute of Nuclear Physics Polish Academy of Sciences
Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.
"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...
In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.
A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...
By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.
"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...
COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.
In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...
'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.
Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...
14.10.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
12.10.2016 | Event News
21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine
21.10.2016 | Information Technology
21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences