NASA, JAXA XRISM mission unveils cosmic secrets with mesmerising X-ray imagery

In a groundbreaking revelation, the XRISM (X-ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission) observatory, spearheaded by Japan’s Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), has provided an initial glimpse of the extraordinary data it will soon gather as it embarks on its scientific operations later this year. A snapshot released by the satellite’s science team showcases a conglomerate of hundreds of galaxies and a spectrum of stellar remnants from a nearby galaxy, offering scientists an intricate understanding of its chemical composition.

According to Richard Kelley, the U.S. principal investigator for XRISM at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, the mission promises to unveil the hidden facets of the X-ray sky, enabling the examination of sources not just through images but also through the study of their compositions, motions, and physical states.

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XRISM’s Advanced Instruments and Capabilities

Launched on September 6, 2023, XRISM, a collaborative effort between JAXA, NASA, and the European Space Agency (ESA), is specifically designed to detect X-rays with energies up to 12,000 electron volts. This capability allows the mission to explore the universe’s hottest regions, largest structures, and objects with the strongest gravitational pull, surpassing the energy levels of visible light by a significant margin.

The mission boasts two key instruments: Resolve and Xtend, positioned at the focal point of an X-ray Mirror Assembly crafted at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Resolve, a microcalorimeter spectrometer developed by NASA and JAXA, operates at just above absolute zero, providing previously inaccessible information about the energy of individual X-rays.

Resolve’s first application focused on studying N132D, a supernova remnant in the Large Magellanic Cloud, revealing a detailed X-ray spectrum of the object’s chemical makeup. Brian Williams, NASA’s XRISM project scientist, emphasised how Resolve’s capabilities permit a new level of precision in determining elements’ abundances, temperatures, densities, and motion directions.

Xtend, XRISM’s second instrument, is an X-ray imager developed by JAXA, offering a broad field of view that allowed it to capture an image of Abell 2319, a galaxy cluster undergoing a significant merger event.

Despite a minor setback with Resolve’s aperture door, limiting the mission to 1,700 electron volts instead of the planned 300, XRISM’s team remains undeterred, exploring solutions to rectify the anomaly. The XRISM General Observer Facility is currently accepting proposals for observations, with Cycle 1 investigations set to commence in the summer of 2024, marking a new era in X-ray astronomy.

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