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.
Norbert Schartel | alfa
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