June 27, 2014
European Space Agency Selects Athena Advanced Telescope For Study Of High-Energy Astrophysics
Gerard LeBlond for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
The European Space Agency (ESA) is in the process of launching a second “Large-class” mission to explore the universe for high-energy astrophysics and selected the Athena advanced telescope for the task.
Athena is a large X-ray telescope combined with state-of-the-art scientific instruments and many questions will be addressed when the mission kicks off. For instance, how do black holes grow and what role do they play in their surroundings? And, how and why does ordinary matter form within galaxies and galactic clusters?
Scientists theorize that black holes are in the center of almost every galaxy and contribute to the formation and evolution of them. Black holes swallow hot material and Athena will observe this process by X-ray emissions just before the material is consumed by the black hole. Athena will also be able to measure distortions and determine the spin of the black hole itself.
There are many astronomical phenomena in the universe and Athena will also be able to observe these with the new equipment. Some of these spectacular scenes include gamma-ray bursts, Jupiter’s auroras, comets, magnetic interplay between parent stars and exoplanets and the hot gases formed around clusters.
“Athena will be a state-of-the-art observatory that will provide a significant leap forward in scientific capabilities compared with previous X-ray missions, and will address fundamental open questions in astrophysics. Its selection ensures that Europe’s success in the field of X-ray astronomy is maintained far beyond the lifetime of our flagship observatory XMM-Newton,” said Alvaro Giménez, ESA’s Director of Science and Robotic Exploration.
In March 2013, ESA reached out to the European science community to designate themes for its second and third missions. The theme “the hot and energetic Universe” was selected in November 2013 for the L2 mission set to launch in 2028 and “the gravitational Universe” was selected for the L3 mission planned for 2034.
Athena was also selected for the L2 mission and is currently in the study phase. Around 2019, proposals and adoption of the mission will be presented after the design and cost phases are completed and construction should soon follow.
The mission will consist of Athena being launched into a gravitational orbit 932,100 miles from Earth, a position coincidentally known as L2.