Telescope Captures Breathtaking New Map Of The X-Ray Universe

Emily Brown


Telescope Captures Breathtaking New Map Of The X-Ray UniverseJ. Sanders, H. Brunner and the eSASS team/MPE; E. Churazov, M. Gilfanov/IKI

A German-Russian space telescope has produced an incredible map of the Universe by tracing its X-rays. 

The stunning data comes from the eROSITA instrument, which is mounted on Spektr-RG, an orbiting telescope launched in July last year and dispatched to an observing position approximately 1.5 million kilometres from Earth.

The equipment was declared fully operational in December 2019, after which it was left to slowly rotate while scanning the depths of space.

Check out an animation of how eROSITA scans the sky: 

Following six months of observation, eROSITA’s first all-sky data-set was completed last week, and the incredible image produced was worth the wait.

The map uses the so-called Aitoff projection, which displays the sphere of the sky on to an ellipse, and has recorded instances of matter being accelerated, heated and shredded through black holes, exploding stars, and hot gas.

The plane of our Milky Way galaxy stretches across the middle of the map, with the centre of the galaxy in the middle of the ellipse.

To help illustrate the Universe’s goings-on, the map has been encoded with colour. Blues represent higher energy X-rays, greens are mid-range, and reds are lower energy.

Telescope captures x-ray universePeter Predehl, Werner Becker (MPE), Davide Mella

The telescope records over a million sources of X-rays, which Kirpal Nandra, who heads the high-energy astrophysics group at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics (MPE) in Garching, Germany, said is ‘pretty much the same number as had been detected in the whole history of X-ray astronomy going back 60 years.’

Speaking to BBC News, Nandra added:

We’ve basically doubled the known sources in just six months.

The data is truly stunning and I think what we’re doing here will revolutionise X-ray astronomy.

Much of the galaxy’s plane is dominated by highly energetic sources, such as stars with strong, magnetically active and extremely hot atmospheres. The greens and yellows represent hot gas inside and just outside our galaxy, and imprints information about the formation and evolution of the Milky Way.

X-ray universeJ. Sanders, H. Brunner and the eSASS team/MPE; E. Churazov, M. Gilfanov/IKI

The bright yellow patch to the right of the map is a concentration of supernova remnants, dominated by the Vela supernova remnant that happened thousands of years ago.

The white spots visible are the signature of super-massive black holes. Approximately 80% of all the sources contained in the new map are the gargantuan black holes that reside at the centres of distant galaxies, and which pump out X-rays as their gravitational pull draws in and eviscerates matter.

Researchers hope to use the telescope to map the distribution of the hot, X-ray-emitting gas that illuminates the great clusters of galaxies in order to get some fresh insights on how the Universe is structured and how it has changed through time.

Data for x-ray universe mapEsra Bulbul, Jeremy Sanders/MPE

The findings may offer clues about the nature of dark energy, a mysterious ‘force’ that appears to be pushing the cosmos apart at an accelerating rate.

Professor Nandra commented:

That’s the big prize, but it would only come at the end of the mission…

Basically, we’re trying to detect all of the clusters of galaxies in the Universe above a certain mass limit. We’ve got a nice sample already – maybe around 10,000. But we’re hoping to get at least 100,000 clusters of galaxies.

Over the next three and a half years, Spektr-RG and its eROSITA instrument will gather seven more all-sky surveys, allowing the telescope to refine its data and explore deeper into the cosmos to pick up the faint sources that would otherwise be beyond detection.

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Topics: Science, Astronomy, galaxy, Milky Way, Now, Space, universe


BBC and 1 other
  1. BBC

    Breathtaking new map of the X-ray Universe

  2. MPG

    Our deepest view of the X-ray sky

Emily Brown
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