TechExploring the cosmic beyond. XRISM telescope captures its first images of distant galaxies and supernova remnants

Exploring the cosmic beyond. XRISM telescope captures its first images of distant galaxies and supernova remnants

Supernova seen through the XRISM telescope
Supernova seen through the XRISM telescope
Images source: © NASA

10:09 AM EST, January 8, 2024

The Telescope XRISM (X-ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission), a joint venture by NASA and JAXA, has just relayed its debut images, proving its impressive capabilities. These capabilities will be fully employed later this year.

The images relayed illustrate a cluster of several hundred galaxies as well as remnants of a star from one of the adjacent galaxies.

From NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Richard Kelley stated that XRISM will enable the international scientific community to explore a concealed layer of the universe visible in X-rays. He added that through XRISM, scientists would be able to capture images of X-ray sources and research their composition, motion, and physical condition.

The telescope is designed to respond to energy rays reaching up to 12,000 electron volts (eV). This allows it to observe the hottest places, most significant structures, and objects with the most substantial gravity in space. In contrast, visible light has an energy level of 2-3 eV.

The Satellite is equipped with two instruments - Resolve and Xtend. Resolve operates at temperatures below one degree Kelvin. When targeted rays strike its detector, the instrument's temperature rises, depending on the absorbed energy. Such photon energy measures provide previously inaccessible data to other observers.

Imaging a Supernova

Researchers using Resolve have recently inspected the remnants of the supernova N132D. This is one of the brightest X-ray sources in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a neighboring galaxy, approximately 991,753.2 light-years from Earth. The remnants are from a star explosion that occurred 3,000 years ago involving a star with a mass similar to 15 Suns. The instrument identified specific elements - sulfur, silicon, calcium, argon, and iron. Scientists assert this to be the most accurate analysis of an X-ray source to date.

The identified elements were formed in the original star and discharged during the supernova explosion. Resolve will enable us to assess these signals with unprecedented precision. We will be capable of determining the quantity of these elements and their temperature, density, and motion. This data assists us in making informed deductions about the original star and the explosion," explained Brian Williams, also from Goddard.

"Resolve has surpassed our expectations even before its complete launch. Our target resolution was 7 electron volts, but we accomplished a resolution of 5 eV once in orbit. Consequently, we can develop even more accurate chemical maps of the spectra captured by XRISM," commented NASA project manager Dr. Lillian Reichenthal

Xtend, the second instrument, surveys the universe at a broader angle - 60% greater than the angle observed when viewing the Full Moon from Earth. This device photographed the Abell 2319 galaxy cluster in the Cygnus constellation, located approximately 4.779 billion light-years away. It is the fifth brightest known galaxy cluster in the X-ray range, roughly 18.641 million light-years.

Nonetheless, not everything progressed as expected. The shield designed to protect the Resolve instrument did not open at launch. With the shield blocked, rays with energy below 1700 eV cannot be recorded, while the planned threshold was 300 eV. This limitation reduces the amount of available information. Scientists are investigating the underlying problem and exploring methods to conduct an accurate study even with the shield closed.

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