A few days ago, China successfully launched the Einstein Probe , a novel X-ray satellite. The Chang Zheng 2C rocket took off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center and placed the satellite into a 600 km low Earth orbit. .
With this successful launch, the Einstein Probe began its mission to explore the sky in search of X-ray bursts, which originate from some of the most powerful phenomena in the universe, such as feeding black holes, collisions of neutron stars and stellar explosions.
This project is the result of collaboration between the European Space Agency (ESA), the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics (MPE) and the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). The probe is equipped with two instruments: the Wide Field X-ray Telescope (WXT) and the Follow-up X-ray Telescope (FXT). These two instruments work together to efficiently monitor the entire sky and discover new sources of X-rays.
The design of the Einstein Probe
WXT’s optical design is inspired by the eyes of locusts and uses a modular approach with thousands of square fibers to guide light to the detectors, allowing the probe to observe a large portion of the sky at once. When the WXT detects a new x-ray source, the FXT, which has a narrower view but is more sensitive, studies it in greater detail.
It is important to highlight that ESA played an essential role in the development and testing of the X-ray detectors and optics of the WXT, as well as in the collaboration with MPE and Media Lario (Italy) in the development of the FXT telescopes. MPE also contributed by providing the mirror assembly for one of the telescopes and the detector modules for both FXT units. In addition, ESA provided a system to divert unwanted electrons from the detectors and will use its ground stations for downloading data from the probe, gaining access to 10% of the data generated by the observations.
The ability to detect new sources and monitor their evolution over time is essential to understanding the most energetic processes in the universe, such as neutron star collisions, supernova explosions, and the interaction of matter with black holes and intense magnetic fields.
The Einstein probe orbits the Earth every 96 minutes with an orbital inclination of 29 degrees, allowing it to observe much of the night sky in just three orbits. Over the next six months, the operations team will test and calibrate the instruments to ensure accurate measurements. After this preparation phase, the probe will be dedicated to X-ray observation of the sky for at least three years.
” I’m looking forward to the discoveries that the Einstein probe will enable ,” says Erik Kuulkers, ESA’s Einstein probe project scientist. “Thanks to its exceptionally wide view, we will be able to capture the X-ray light from collisions between neutron stars and discover what is causing some of the gravitational waves we detect on Earth. Often, when these elusive space-time waves are recorded, we cannot locate where they come from. By quickly detecting the X-ray burst, we will identify the origin of many gravitational wave events”.
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