On September 6th, a cutting-edge satellite embarked on a journey from Earth with a pivotal mission: unraveling the mysteries of hot plasma flows in the cosmos.
Departing from the Tanegashima Space Center in Japan, the X-Ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission (XRISM) satellite is set to revolutionize our understanding of the universe by capturing X-ray wavelengths with unprecedented precision. Its primary objectives encompass peering into the cores of galaxy clusters, unveiling the intricate workings of black holes and supernovae, and shedding light on the elemental composition of the cosmos.
Pronounced “crism,” XRISM is the product of a collaborative effort between the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and NASA, with participation from the European Space Agency. What sets XRISM apart from existing X-ray telescopes is its ability to differentiate between various colors of X-ray light, unlocking a treasure trove of data for scientists. Equipped with a groundbreaking instrument that detects X-rays through minuscule temperature fluctuations, it can discern the chemical elements present in observed objects, such as iron, nickel, oxygen, or silicon, along with their respective quantities. Furthermore, XRISM possesses the capability to measure the velocities of gas movements.
Irina Zhuravleva, a NASA participating scientist and chair of the diffuse extragalactic science team at the University of Chicago, expressed the significance of XRISM: “With XRISM, we will have a whole new view of the hot and energetic universe. We will observe stellar explosions, interactions of black holes with their host galaxies, and violent mergers of galaxy clusters in unprecedented detail, but most exciting—the unexpected discoveries that always accompany new missions.”
X-rays originate from some of the most energetic and extreme phenomena in space, including exploding stars, the matter swirling around supermassive black holes, and the mergers of galaxy clusters, which are the universe’s largest objects, housing thousands of galaxies bound by gravity.
At the University of Chicago, scientists will scrutinize the initial observations of several massive galaxy clusters and galaxy groups. One pressing question relates to supermassive black holes situated at the centers of galaxy clusters. Researchers are keen to understand how these black holes release energy into their surroundings, affecting the rate of star formation. XRISM’s ability to measure gas motion velocities and study the mixing of different gases and metals promises to provide answers.
Additionally, by making similar measurements in the outer reaches of galaxy clusters, XRISM will unveil the mechanisms by which energy is distributed throughout the universe. Moreover, it will offer precise measurements of various chemical elements’ abundances and the distribution of metals within and outside galaxies, thus elucidating which types of exploding stars have shaped the current chemical composition of the universe.
Due to Earth’s atmosphere blocking X-rays, such observations must be conducted from space. Launching and operating a satellite in space presents formidable challenges, with three previous attempts ending in failure. Scientists are hopeful that the fourth endeavor will yield success. Following its launch, the XRISM satellite will undergo testing and calibration to ensure that all instruments are prepared for the upcoming observational phase later this year.
Irina Zhuravleva encapsulated the excitement surrounding XRISM, stating, “XRISM will open a new era of high-resolution X-ray spectroscopy. We’re very excited about this mission and preparing to analyze highly anticipated data.”
Source: University of Chicago