The NASA/JAXA XRISM Mission Offers the First Look at the X-ray Universe

The NASA/JAXA XRISM Mission Offers the First Look at the X-ray Universe

An first glimpse of the unparalleled data that will be gathered when science operations of the Japan-led XRISM (X-ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission) observatory start later this year has been made public.

Scientists can now get a thorough look at the chemical composition of a nearby galaxy by examining a spectrum of stellar wreckage and a picture of hundreds of galaxies taken by the satellite’s science team.

“XRISM at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland will give the international science community a new glimpse of the hidden X-ray sky,” stated Richard Kelley, the principal investigator for the U.S. team leading XRISM. “We’ll examine these sources’ compositions, motions, and physical states in addition to viewing X-ray images of them.”

Pronounced “crism,” XRISM is spearheaded by NASA and JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency), with support from ESA (European Space Agency). On September 6, 2023, it debuted.

It will investigate the hottest spots, biggest structures, and objects with the highest gravity in the cosmos. It is intended to detect X-rays with energies up to 12,000 electron volts. In contrast, visible light has between two and three electron volts of energy.

Resolve and Xtend, the two instruments of the mission, are each at the center of an X-ray Mirror Assembly that was created and constructed at Goddard.

NASA and JAXA created the microcalorimeter spectrometer known as Resolve. It is housed inside a refrigerator-sized container filled with liquid helium and runs at a temperature just slightly above absolute zero.

Resolve’s 6-by-6-pixel detector warms up in response to incoming X-rays in a proportional manner. The device measures the energy of each individual X-ray, providing previously unobtainable source information.
N132D is a supernova remnant and one of the brightest X-ray sources in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a dwarf galaxy located in the southern constellation Dorado and approximately 160,000 light-years away. The mission team studied N132D with Resolve. nearly 3,000 years ago, a star nearly 15 times the mass of the Sun ran out of fuel, crashed, and exploded, leaving behind the growing wreckage.

There are peaks in the Resolve spectrum that correspond to silicon, sulfur, calcium, argon, and iron. This is the object’s most comprehensive X-ray spectrum ever acquired, showcasing the amazing science the mission will perform once normal operations start later in 2024.

The initial star’s explosion as a supernova “blasted away these elements that were forged in it,” according to NASA’s XRISM project scientist at Goddard, Brian Williams. “Resolve will enable us to see these lines’ shapes in a manner that has never been feasible before, enabling us to ascertain with hitherto unheard-of degrees of precision not only the abundances of the different elements present but also their temperatures, densities, and motion directions. We can then pull together details about the explosion and the initial star from there.

JAXA developed Xtend, the second instrument aboard XRISM, which is an X-ray imager. Because of its wide field of view, XRISM can see a region that is almost 60% bigger than the full moon’s average apparent size.
An X-ray image of Abell 2319, a dense galaxy cluster located in the northern constellation Cygnus and approximately 770 million light-years away, was taken by Xtend. It is presently going through a significant merger event and is the seventh brightest X-ray cluster in the sky.

The cluster, which demonstrates Xtend’s broad field of vision, is 3 million light-years across.

“Even before the end of the commissioning process, Resolve is already exceeding our expectations,” said Lillian Reichenthal, NASA’s XRISM project manager at Goddard. “Our goal was to achieve a spectral resolution of 7 electron volts with the instrument, but now that it’s in orbit, we’re achieving 5. What that means is we’ll get even more detailed chemical maps with each spectrum XRISM captures.”

Despite a problem with its detector’s aperture door, Resolve is operating at peak efficiency and has already initiated fascinating scientific research. Despite multiple tries, the door that was intended to shield the detector prior to launch has not opened as intended. Rather of stopping the mission at 300 electron volts as planned, the door stops lower-energy X-rays. The XRISM team is looking into several strategies for unlocking the door and will keep examining the phenomenon. There is no impact on the Xtend device.

Through Thursday, April 4, members of American and Canadian institutions may submit suggestions for observations to NASA’s Goddard-hosted XRISM General Observer Facility. The first cycle of XRISM General Observer studies is scheduled to start in the summer of 2024.

XRISM is a joint NASA/JAXA mission in which ESA is a collaborator. The Canadian Space Agency is one of the scientific partners of NASA.

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