Breathtaking new map of the X-ray Universe
All-sky x-ray card
See the hot, energetic universe.
A German-Russian space telescope has just received a groundbreaking map of the sky that traces the sky in X-rays.
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The picture records a large part of the violent actions in the cosmos - cases in which matter is accelerated, heated and crushed.
Black holes, exploding stars and hot gas.
The data comes from the eRosita instrument mounted on a Spektrum RG.
This orbiting telescope was launched last July and sent to an observation position approximately 1.5 million km from Earth. After it went into operation in December and was declared fully functional, it had to rotate slowly and scan the depths of space.
The first eRosita All Sky dataset, shown in the image at the top of this page, was only completed last week. It records over a million X-ray sources.
"This is actually pretty much the same number that has been recorded in the entire history of X-ray astronomy for 60 years. We have doubled the known sources in just six months," said Kirpal Nandra, who heads the high-energy astrophysics group at Max Planck -Institute for extraterrestrial physics (MPE) in Garching.
"The data is really breathtaking and I think what we're doing here will revolutionize X-ray astronomy," he told BBC News.
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The map uses the so-called Aitoff projection, which wraps the celestial sphere on an ellipse. The band in the middle is the plane of our Milky Way galaxy with the center of the galaxy in the middle of the ellipse.
The image was color coded to describe what's going on. Blues represent higher energy x-rays (1-2.3 kiloelectron volts, keV); Greens are in the middle range (0.6-1 keV); and red tones have a lower energy (0.3-0.6 keV).
Much of the level of the galaxy is dominated by high-energy sources. This is partly due to the fact that abundant gas and dust have absorbed and filtered out the low-energy radiation. Sources are stars with a strong, magnetically active and extremely hot atmosphere.
The greens and yellows, which draw a kind of mushroom feature that covers a large part of the map, represent hot gas inside and outside our galaxy. This material shapes information about the origin and development of the Milky Way.
Some of the larger Splodges are famous actors in the sky. The bright yellow spot just above the aircraft on the far right is a concentration of supernova remnants - the wreck of stars that have exploded and whose shock waves have overheated a surrounding cocoon of dust and gas. This particular spot is dominated by the remnant of the Vela supernova. This was an explosion that occurred thousands of years ago, but only 800 light years from Earth.
Next, look at the diffuse red glow at the top and bottom of the map. This is largely an X-ray emission of hot gas far beyond our galaxy. And in the white spots we mainly see the signature of supermassive black holes. In fact, about 80% of all sources included in the new map are the giant black holes that are in the centers of distant galaxies. They pump out X-rays while their immense attraction attracts and guts matter.
Some of the super massive black holes that appear on the map can be seen when the universe was younger than a billion years old, less than 10% of its current age.
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Spektrum-RG and its eRosita instrument intend to perform seven more All-Sky surveys over the next 3.5 years. This enables the telescope to refine its data, remove artifacts and noise, but also to capture it deeper into the cosmos and to record the weak sources that would otherwise not be recognizable.
An important goal is to map the distribution of the hot X-ray emitting gas that illuminates the large clusters of galaxies.
Astronomers hope that this information can lead them to new insights into how the universe is structured and how it has changed over time. It is possible that this project contains some pointers to the nature of dark energy, the mysterious "force" that seems to push the cosmos ever faster apart.
"This is the big price, but it would only come at the end of the mission," said Prof. Nandra.
"Eight studies allow us to really penetrate deep into the distant universe. Basically we try to capture all galaxy clusters in the universe above a certain mass limit. We already have a nice sample - maybe around 10,000. However, we hope to get at least 100,000 galaxy clusters . "
eRosita is the German element at Spektrum-RG. It takes up most of the space in the spacecraft bus or chassis. However, it is located next to a Russian instrument called ART-XC, which is sensitive to higher energies up to 30 keV.
Both eRosita and ART-XC use a group of seven tubular mirror modules to direct X-ray light onto their sensitive camera detectors.
Jonathan.Amos-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk and follow me on Twitter: @BBCAmos
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