XMM – Newton, launched in 1999, is an ESA satellite dedicated to observing X-rays sources in the universe. Named after the its highly nested X-ray Multi-Mirrors, XMM-Newton will solve many cosmic mysteries of the violent Universe, from what happens in and around black holes to the formation of galaxies in the early Universe.
XMM – Newton is the biggest science satellite ever built inEurope. Its telescope mirrors are the most sensitive ever developed in the world, and with its sensitive detectors, it sees much more than any previous X-ray satellite. In one day, XMM-Newton sees more sources in a small area than one of the earliest X-ray satellites UHURU found across the whole sky during its three years in operation. Its high-tech design uses over 170 wafer-thin cylindrical mirrors spread over three telescopes. Its orbit takes it almost a third of the way to the Moon, so that astronomers can enjoy long, uninterrupted views of celestial objects.
XMM-Newton has been the first to measure the influence of the gravitational field of a neutron star on the light it emits.
Neutron stars are among the densest objects in the Universe — a sugarcube-sized piece of a neutron star would weigh over a thousand million tonnes. Neutron stars are the remnants of heavy stars that end their life in a supernova explosion. In such cataclysmic events, most of the stellar matter is ejected into space (to eventually become the building blocks of all matter in the Universe, including ourselves). In the same way the colour of a lamp indicates what gas is used in street lighting, the three spectrometers on board XMM-Newton will reveal the deepest secrets of a source, its chemical composition, temperature, and even its velocity.
The Netherlands and XMM-NewtonTwo of the X-ray telescopes onboard contain SRON-developed Reflection Grating Spectrometers (RFG’s). The RFG’s produce a spectrum that gives detailed information about the hot gasses that the radiation produces including gas composition, pressure, temperature and speed. Using observations from XMM-Newton, scientists at SRON have managed to make the hot trails of gas that are suspended across the universe like fishing net visible. With visibility comes the potential unravelling of the cosmic web’s secrets.