LIVERMORE, Calif. - Scientists have received the first spaceimages and spectra from one of the world's most powerful X-raytelescopes, the new X-ray Multi Mirror-Newton Observatory, designedand constructed with assistance from the U.S. Department of Energy'sLawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
The XMM-Newton fixes its sights into deep space, halfway back intime to the origin of the universe, collecting information on objectspreviously beyond the reach of researchers.
First observations include a vast galactic region of explodingstars spewing material that gives birth to new stars. Also capturedwas a pair of twin stars whizzing about one another at enormousspeed, generating a dynamo that twists the stars' magnetic fields andcauses intense stellar flares and storms.
In addition to X-ray images, XMM employs two spectrometers tosplit the X-ray radiation coming to the spacecraft into a rainbow ofX- ray colors. Since elements absorb and emit light at specificwavelengths, the resulting X-ray spectra reveal not only theelemental makeup of the objects being observed, but the temperatures,densities, and velocities of the emitting material.
Lawrence Livermore researchers designed, prototyped and fabricatedthe devices in the spectrometers that split up the X-rays. Calledreflective grating arrays, the 132-lb. devices work similar to aglass prism that splits ordinary visible light into rainbow hues.
Construction of the arrays required extreme precision in aligningthe arrays' 182 gold-plated reflective grating plates, each of whichis lined with grooves 7 millionths of an inch deep and spaced 60millionths of an inch apart. The plates had to remain fixed within 40millionths of an inch of one another to diffract the X-rays to acommon detector. The delicate arrays also had to be mounted in thespacecraft in such a way that they would withstand the tremendousshock and vibration of launch without misaligning the plates.
"It was an incredible challenge to design and develop not only thereflective grating plates in the arrays, but also the large,lightweight support structures that hold the grating arrays in thespacecraft," said Todd Decker, project engineer on Livermore'sportion of the XMM project. "Seeing these first results makes it allworthwhile."
Launched in December, the XMM-Newton is a European Space Agencysatellite that complements the U.S. Chandra X-ray observatorylaunched last summer. XMM-Newton's spectrometers are a collaborationbetween Space Research of the Netherlands and Columbia University.Columbia physics professor Steve Kahn was the principal investigatorfor the reflection grating array, with funding provided by NASA. Kahncame to Lawrence Livermore for help with the project because of theLab's expertise in precision engineering.
Founded in 1952, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is anational security laboratory, with a mission to ensure nationalsecurity and apply science and technology to the important issues ofour time. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is managed by theUniversity of California for the U.S. Department of Energy.