A large X-ray observing mission is scheduled to launch on Saturday (August 26), aiming to provide astronomers with views of some of the universe’s hottest, hottest, most extreme objects and events.
Imaging and X-ray spectroscopy task (XRISM), a collaboration between NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) with assistance from the European Space Agency (ESA), will study things such as envelopes of hot gas surrounding clusters of galaxies and violent explosions from supermassive black holes. Its results should help scientists better understand the evolution of the universe.
“X-ray astronomy enables us to study the most energetic phenomena in the universe,” Matteo Guinazzi, ESA’s XRISM project scientist, said in an article. statement. “It holds the key to answering important questions in modern astrophysics: how do the largest structures in the universe evolve, how matter of which we are ultimately made is distributed across the universe, and how galaxies are formed by the supermassive black holes at their centers.”
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XRISM will be launched on the H-IIA Expendable Launch System (H-2A) operated by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) from Tanegashima Space Center, Japan. It is expected to operate for at least three years.
Guainazzi explained that the observation time of ESA’s 8% of XRISM’s available runtime will help form a bridge between the space agency’s currently operating operations. XMM-Newton The mission, which has spent 24 years in space collecting X-ray data AthensIt is scheduled to be released in the late 2030s.
See the extreme universe in x-rays
While astronomers have become adept at seeing cosmic objects such as stars and galaxies emitting light associated with the visible region of the electromagnetic spectrum, the section our eyes have evolved to see, these observations paint only part of the broader cosmic picture.
The universe is also permeated with electromagnetic radiation associated with low-energy infrared wavelengths, which are captured by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) with great effect, as well as high-energy X-rays and gamma rays.
Although they are not visible to our eyes, these X-rays are emitted by things like gas lurking between stars and galaxies and from extreme, violent environments. So studying them could add important details to our cosmic fabric.
For example, one of XRISM’s main functions will be to study X-rays coming from massive, superheated gaseous envelopes surrounding galaxy clusters, some of the largest structures in the known universe. This should help measure the masses of these clusters as well as their gas envelopes, allowing astronomers to better understand how these systems evolve.
In addition, X-rays emitted from gas envelopes can help astronomers determine how enriched the shells are with elements heavier than hydrogen and helium. Those heavier elements are called “metals”.
Knowing the mineral composition is important because when the universe began to fill with stars and galaxies, the only elements that were present in significant amounts were hydrogen and helium, plus a few metals such as nitrogen. This was the first generation of stars to form heavier elements through the nuclear fusion of hydrogen and helium in their cores.
These heavy elements were then distributed throughout the universe when the first stars exploded as supernovae at the end of their lives. These gas clouds surrounding galaxies are enriched with minerals. Then, when very dense patches collapsed from those clouds, giving birth to the second generation of stars, they produced more metal-rich stars.
XRISM will be able to measure the energy of high-energy X-ray photons, or particles of light, using its resolver. The European Space Agency’s upcoming Athens mission will include a similar instrument that will be informed of how Resolve works with XRISM.
The solution will allow astronomers to measure with a high degree of accuracy the temperatures and velocities of hot gases observed by the mission. In addition, by mapping the minerals in these clouds via the emitted X-rays, XRISM can help scientists better determine how stellar mineral enrichment occurred over the last 13.8 billion years of cosmic history.
XRISM’s innovative X-ray probe will also help physicists learn more about some fundamental cosmic phenomena, too.
How will XRISM put Einstein to the test?
Albert Einstein’s 1915 theory of general relativity is currently recognized as our best explanation of gravity on cosmic scales, but there are still aspects of the universe that struggle to explain. For example, it doesn’t fully explain the way the expansion of the universe is accelerating.
That’s why scientists continue to test the limits of general relativity, also known as Einstein’s geometric theory of gravity, which suggests that objects with mass “distort” the fabric of space and time. According to general relativity, it is from this distortion that “gravity” arises. The more massive and dense the object, the more distortion it causes.
Interestingly, the effects of this warp can also be seen when electromagnetic radiation or light passes through the warp.
XRISM will take advantage of this effect when it looks at X-ray emissions from the material surrounding the densest and most massive objects in the universe, the supermassive black holes that lie at the center of most, if not all, large galaxies.
When these supermassive black holes feed on the material around them, which forms a flat disk called an accretion disk, that material is heated to enormous temperatures. In addition, the powerful magnetic fields of supermassive black holes charge matter in these disks that don’t actually fall “inside” the black hole to the poles of the void, where it is blasted off as jets and winds moving close to the speed of light.
Both processes, including the heating of material in accretion disks and the blasting of winds and powerful jets, cause X-rays to be emitted from that material.
So, by looking at these X-rays with XRISM, scientists can determine the extent to which space-time warps around supermassive black holes, and thus test general relativity under the most extreme conditions imaginable.
Carrying out such basic physics investigations using X-rays and any high-energy astronomy requires cutting-edge technology, and XRISM certainly fits this project.