Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

A New View into the Hot and Energetic Universe

29.11.2013
ESA selects science theme for its next large mission

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?

In addition to “the Hot and Energetic Universe”, ESA accepted “the Gravitational Universe” as the theme for its following L-class mission. The proposed evolved Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (eLISA), a space-based gravitational-wave observatory, is likely to be the mission proposed to address this theme.

Further information

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.

Contact

Prof. Dr. Kirpal Nandra
Director of the High-Energy Astrophysics Group at MPE
Phone:+49 89 30000-3401
Email:knandra@mpe.mpg.de
Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, Garching
Dr. Arne Rau
Athena Wide Field Imager Project Scientist
Phone:+49 (0)89 30000 3851
Email:arau@mpe.mpg.de
Max-Planck-Institut für extraterrestrische Physik, Garching
Dr. Hannelore Hämmerle
MPE Pressesprecherin
Phone:+49 (0)89 30000 3980Fax:+49 (0)89 30000 3569
Email:pr@mpe.mpg.de
Max-Planck-Institut für extraterrestrische Physik, Garching
Prof. Dr. Thomas Reiprich
Phone:+49-228-733642
Email:reiprich@astro.uni-bonn.de
Argelander-Institut für Astronomie, Universität Bonn, Auf dem Hügel 71, 53121 Bonn

Mobile: +49-151-41943953

Prof. Dr. Jörn Wilms
Phone:+49 174 2068644
Email:joern.wilms@sternwarte.uni-erlangen.de
FAU Erlangen-Nürnberg, Remeis-Sternwarte & ECAP, Sternwartstr. 7, 96049 Bamberg
Prof. Dr. Andrea Santangelo
Phone:+49 7071 29 76128
Email:Andrea.Santangelo@uni-tuebingen.de
Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics - Kepler Center,Eberhard-Karls Universität Tübingen , Sand 1, 72076 Tübingen

Dr. Hannelore Hämmerle | Max-Planck-Institute
Further information:
http://www.mpe.mpg.de/4668944/News_20131128

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Abrupt motion sharpens x-ray pulses
28.07.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Kernphysik

nachricht Physicists Design Ultrafocused Pulses
27.07.2017 | Universität Innsbruck

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Abrupt motion sharpens x-ray pulses

Spectrally narrow x-ray pulses may be “sharpened” by purely mechanical means. This sounds surprisingly, but a team of theoretical and experimental physicists developed and realized such a method. It is based on fast motions, precisely synchronized with the pulses, of a target interacting with the x-ray light. Thereby, photons are redistributed within the x-ray pulse to the desired spectral region.

A team of theoretical physicists from the MPI for Nuclear Physics (MPIK) in Heidelberg has developed a novel method to intensify the spectrally broad x-ray...

Im Focus: Physicists Design Ultrafocused Pulses

Physicists working with researcher Oriol Romero-Isart devised a new simple scheme to theoretically generate arbitrarily short and focused electromagnetic fields. This new tool could be used for precise sensing and in microscopy.

Microwaves, heat radiation, light and X-radiation are examples for electromagnetic waves. Many applications require to focus the electromagnetic fields to...

Im Focus: Carbon Nanotubes Turn Electrical Current into Light-emitting Quasi-particles

Strong light-matter coupling in these semiconducting tubes may hold the key to electrically pumped lasers

Light-matter quasi-particles can be generated electrically in semiconducting carbon nanotubes. Material scientists and physicists from Heidelberg University...

Im Focus: Flexible proximity sensor creates smart surfaces

Fraunhofer IPA has developed a proximity sensor made from silicone and carbon nanotubes (CNT) which detects objects and determines their position. The materials and printing process used mean that the sensor is extremely flexible, economical and can be used for large surfaces. Industry and research partners can use and further develop this innovation straight away.

At first glance, the proximity sensor appears to be nothing special: a thin, elastic layer of silicone onto which black square surfaces are printed, but these...

Im Focus: 3-D scanning with water

3-D shape acquisition using water displacement as the shape sensor for the reconstruction of complex objects

A global team of computer scientists and engineers have developed an innovative technique that more completely reconstructs challenging 3D objects. An ancient...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Clash of Realities 2017: Registration now open. International Conference at TH Köln

26.07.2017 | Event News

Closing the Sustainability Circle: Protection of Food with Biobased Materials

21.07.2017 | Event News

»We are bringing Additive Manufacturing to SMEs«

19.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

New 3-D imaging reveals how human cell nucleus organizes DNA and chromatin of its genome

28.07.2017 | Health and Medicine

Heavy metals in water meet their match

28.07.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Oestrogen regulates pathological changes of bones via bone lining cells

28.07.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>