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Crucial Dutch contribution to European X-ray telescope

The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research NWO allocates nearly € 19.5 million to a Dutch cluster that contributes to the development of an X-ray camera and spectrograph for the new European space telescope Athena. Leiden Observatory is one of the members of the cluster.

This was announced by Minister Van Engelshoven of OCW on 12 April. The funds come from NOW’s National Roadmap for Large-Scale Scientific Infrastructure. Research institute SRON leads the Dutch Athena cluster.

X-ray telescope

Athena is the new large X-ray telescope of the European space agency ESA, which will take off into space in 2030 thanks to technology developed by the Netherlands. SRON, together with other international institutes, is in charge of the development of the extremely sensitive X-ray camera annex spectrograph (X-IFU) of the space telescope. Cosine research in Warmond is in charge of the development of the X-ray mirror of the telescope. These are crucial contributions to the mission.

Dutch astronomers will also get valuable observation time with Athena. Also part of the roadmap proposal is the development of software for the operational phase, together with the universities of Amsterdam (UvA), Leiden, Groningen and Nijmegen.

Evolution universe

What exactly will Athena observe? Jan Willem den Herder, leader of the X-IFU project at SRON: ‘The space telescope is expected to enable us to considerably better understand the evolution of the universe. At present, only about half of the known space matter is unambiguously detected. Thanks to the much greater sensitivity of Athena, we expect to learn much more about the missing material, which is now largely unknown. Athena also enables us to understand the evolution of black holes and their role in the evolution of the universe much better.’

‘Athena will also provide crucial data on the evolution of chemical elements. But perhaps equally important is that we will be able to use the telescope for all research themes in astronomy. There are always unexpected results that no one can predict now.’

Sharp two-dimensional images

The X-ray camera annex spectrograph X-IFU will soon make sharp two-dimensional images for the first time and at the same time map the properties of extremely hot gases. Den Herder: 'To this end, the spectrograph provides a color spectrum for each pixel in the resulting image, revealing the properties of gas of no less than 10 million degrees Kelvin. By accurately determining the energy of the X-ray, X-IFU can also provide information about the quantities and movement of gases that are blown into space at black holes. '

Source: SRON