From Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics: “Our deepest view of the X-ray sky”

From Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics

June 19, 2020
Merloni, Andrea
Senior Scientist
+49 (0)89 30000-3893
+49 (0)89 30000-3569
am@mpe.mpg.de

Predehl, Peter
Senior Scientist
+49 (0)89 30000-3505
+4915112113639
+49 (0)89 30000-3569
ppredehl@mpe.mpg.de

Nandra, Kirpal
director
+49 (0)89 30000-3401
+49 (0)89 30000-3569
knandra@mpe.mpg.de

The eROSITA telescope has provided a new, sharp view of hot and energetic processes across the Universe.

eRosita DLR MPG, on Russian German space telescope The Russian-German space probe Spektrum-Roentgen-Gamma (SRG)

Over the course of 182 days, the eROSITA X-ray telescope onboard SRG has completed its first full sweep of the sky. This new map of the hot, energetic universe contains more than one million objects, roughly doubling the number of known X-ray sources discovered over the 60-year history of X-ray astronomy. Most of the new sources are active galactic nuclei at cosmological distances, marking the growth of gigantic black holes over cosmic time. Clusters of galaxies in the new map will be used to track the growth of cosmic structures and constrain cosmological parameters. Closer to home, stars with hot coronae, binaries and supernova remnants dot our Galaxy, and we now have a complete map of the hot baryons in the Milky Way, something that can only be achieved with the 360-degree view provided by the eROSITA survey.

1
The energetic universe as seen with the eROSITA X-ray telescope. The first eROSITA all-sky survey was conducted over a period of six months by letting the telescope rotate continuously, thus providing a uniform exposure of about 150-200 seconds over most of the sky, with the ecliptic poles being visited more deeply. As eROSITA scans the sky, the energy of the collected photons is measured with an accuracy ranging from 2% – 6%. To generate this image, in which the whole sky is projected onto an ellipse (so-called Aitoff projection) with the centre of the Milky Way in the middle and the body of the Galaxy running horizontally, photons have been colour-coded according to their energy (red for energies 0.3-0.6 keV, green for 0.6-1 keV, blue for 1-2.3 keV). The original image, with a resolution of about 10”, and a corresponding dynamic range of more than one billion, is then smoothed (with a 10’ FWHM Gaussian) in order to generate the above picture.The red diffuse glow away from the galactic plane is the emission of the hot gas in the vicinity of the solar system (the Local Bubble). Along the plane itself, dust and gas absorb the lowest energy X-ray photons, so that only high-energy emitting sources can be seen, and their colour appears blue in the image. The hotter gas close to the galactic centre, shown in green and yellow, carries imprinted the history of the most energetic processes in the life of the Milky Way, such as supernova explosions, driving fountains of gas out of the plane, and, possibly, past outburst from the now dormant supermassive black hole in the centre of the galaxy. Piercing through this turbulent, hot diffuse medium, are hundreds of thousands of X-ray sources, which appear mostly white in the image, and uniformly distributed over the sky. Among them, distant active galactic nuclei (including a few emitting at a time when the Universe was less than one tenth of its current age) are visible as point sources, while clusters of galaxies reveal themselves as extended X-ray nebulosities. In total, about one million X-ray sources have been detected in the eROSITA all-sky image, a treasure trove that will keep the teams busy for the coming years. Credit: Jeremy Sanders, Hermann Brunner and the eSASS team (MPE); Eugene Churazov, Marat Gilfanov (on behalf of IKI).

A million X-ray sources revealing the nature of the hot universe – this is the impressive harvest of the first scan of the entire sky with the eROSITA telescope onboard SRG. “This all-sky image completely changes the way we look at the energetic universe,” says Peter Predehl, the Principal Investigator of eROSITA at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics (MPE). “We see such a wealth of detail – the beauty of the images is really stunning.”

This first complete sky image from eROSITA is about 4 times deeper than the previous all-sky survey by the ROSAT telescope 30 years ago, and has yielded around 10 times more sources: about as many as have been discovered by all past X-ray telescopes combined.

ROSAT X-ray satellite built by DLR , with instruments built by West Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States

And while most classes of astronomical objects emit in X-rays, the hot and energetic Universe looks quite different to the one seen by optical or radio telescopes. Looking outside the body of our Galaxy, most of the eROSITA sources are active galactic nuclei, accreting supermassive black holes at cosmological distances, interspersed with clusters of galaxies, which appear as extended X-ray haloes shining thanks to the hot gas confined by their huge concentrations of dark matter. The all-sky image reveals in exquisite detail the structure of the hot gas in the Milky Way itself, and the circum-galactic medium, which surrounds it, whose properties are key to understanding the formation history of our Galaxy. The eROSITA X-ray map also reveals stars with strong, magnetically active hot coronae, X-ray binary stars containing neutron stars, black holes or white dwarves, and spectacular supernova remnants in our own and other nearby galaxies such as the Magellanic clouds.

Magellanic Clouds ESO S. Brunier

3
Due to its size and close distance to Earth, the “Vela supernova remnant” which is shown in this picture is one of the most prominent objects in the X-ray sky. The Vela supernova exploded about 12000 years ago at a distance of 800 light-years and overlaps with at least two other supernova remnants, Vela Junior (in the picture seen as bluish ring at the bottom left) and Puppis-A (top right). Vela Junior was discovered just 20 years ago, although this object is so close to Earth that remains of this explosion were found in polar ice cores. All three supernova explosions produced both the X-ray-bright supernova remnants and neutron stars, which shine as intense X-ray point sources near the centres of the remnants. The quality of the new eROSITA data of this “stellar cemetery” will give astronomers many exciting new insights into the physical processes operating in the hot supernova plasma as well as for exploring the exotic neutron stars. Credit: Peter Predehl, Werner Becker (MPE), Davide Mella.

“We were all eagerly awaiting the first all-sky map from eROSITA,” says Mara Salvato, the scientist at MPE who leads the effort to combine eROSITA observations with other telescopes across the electromagnetic spectrum. “Large sky areas have already been covered at many other wavelengths, and now we have the X-ray data to match. We need these other surveys to identify the X-ray sources and understand their nature.” The survey is also a treasure trove of rare and exotic phenomena, including numerous types of transients and variables, such as flares from compact objects, merging neutron stars, and stars being swallowed by black holes. “eROSITA often sees unexpected bursts of X-rays from the sky,” continues Salvato. “We need to alert ground-based telescopes immediately to understand what’s producing them.”

Assembling the image has been a mammoth task. So far, the operations team has received and processed about 165 GB of data collected by eROSITA’s seven cameras. While relatively small by “big-data” standards on the ground, operating this complex instrument in space provided its own special challenges. “We check and monitor the health of the instrument on a daily basis, in cooperation with our colleagues in Moscow who operate the SRG spacecraft” explains Miriam Ramos-Ceja, a member of the eROSITA operations team at MPE. “This means we can respond quickly to any anomalies. We’ve been able to react to these immediately to keep the instrument safe, while collecting data at ~97% efficiency. It’s amazing to be able to communicate in real time with an instrument located 1.5 million kilometres away!” The data downlink occurs daily. “We perform immediate quality checks on the data”, she continues, “before it is being processed and analysed by the teams in Germany and Russia.”

While the team is now busy analysing this first all-sky map and using the images and catalogues to deepen our understanding of cosmology and high-energy astrophysical processes, the telescope continues its sweep of the X-ray sky. “The SRG Observatory is now starting its second all-sky survey, which will be completed by the end of this year“, says Rashid Sunyaev, Lead Scientist of the Russian SRG team. “Overall, during the next 3.5 years, we plan to get 7 maps similar to the one seen in this beautiful image. Their combined sensitivity will be a factor of 5 better and will be used by astrophysicists and cosmologists for decades.“

Kirpal Nandra, head of the high-energy astrophysics group at MPE, adds “With a million sources in just six months, eROSITA has already revolutionized X-ray astronomy, but this is just a taste of what’s to come. This combination of sky area and depth is transformational. We are already sampling a cosmological volume of the hot Universe much larger than has been possible before. Over the next few years, we’ll be able to probe even further, out to where the first giant cosmic structures and supermassive black holes were forming.”

Further information:

On 11 June 2020, the eROSITA telescope completed its first survey of the entire X-ray sky. Launched on 13 July 2019 on-board the SRG spacecraft and now orbiting the second Lagrange point of the Earth-Sun-system, the telescope is in continuous scanning mode.

See the full article here .

five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

Stem Education Coalition

For their astrophysical research, the MPE scientists measure the radiation of far away objects in different wavelenths areas: from millimetere/sub-millimetre and infared all the way to X-ray and gamma-ray wavelengths. These methods span more than twelve decades of the electromagnetic spectrum.

The research topics pursued at MPE range from the physics of cosmic plasmas and of stars to the physics and chemistry of interstellar matter, from star formation and nucleosynthesis to extragalactic astrophysics and cosmology. The interaction with observers and experimentalists in the institute not only leads to better consolidated efforts but also helps to identify new, promising research areas early on.

The structural development of the institute mainly has been directed by the desire to work on cutting-edge experimental, astrophysical topics using instruments developed in-house. This includes individual detectors, spectrometers and cameras but also telescopes and integrated, complete payloads. Therefore the engineering and workshop areas are especially important for the close interlink between scientific and technical aspects.

The scientific work is done in four major research areas that are supervised by one of the directors:

Center for Astrochemical Studies (CAS)
Director: P. Caselli

High-Energy Astrophysics
Director: P. Nandra

Infrared/Submillimeter Astronomy
Director: R. Genzel

Optical & Interpretative Astronomy
Director: R. Bender

Within these areas scientists lead individual experiments and research projects organised in about 25 project teams.

The Max Planck Society is Germany’s most successful research organization. Since its establishment in 1948, no fewer than 18 Nobel laureates have emerged from the ranks of its scientists, putting it on a par with the best and most prestigious research institutions worldwide. The more than 15,000 publications each year in internationally renowned scientific journals are proof of the outstanding research work conducted at Max Planck Institutes – and many of those articles are among the most-cited publications in the relevant field.

What is the basis of this success? The scientific attractiveness of the Max Planck Society is based on its understanding of research: Max Planck Institutes are built up solely around the world’s leading researchers. They themselves define their research subjects and are given the best working conditions, as well as free reign in selecting their staff. This is the core of the Harnack principle, which dates back to Adolph von Harnack, the first president of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society, which was established in 1911. This principle has been successfully applied for nearly one hundred years. The Max Planck Society continues the tradition of its predecessor institution with this structural principle of the person-centered research organization.

The currently 83 Max Planck Institutes and facilities conduct basic research in the service of the general public in the natural sciences, life sciences, social sciences, and the humanities. Max Planck Institutes focus on research fields that are particularly innovative, or that are especially demanding in terms of funding or time requirements. And their research spectrum is continually evolving: new institutes are established to find answers to seminal, forward-looking scientific questions, while others are closed when, for example, their research field has been widely established at universities. This continuous renewal preserves the scope the Max Planck Society needs to react quickly to pioneering scientific developments.