Europe’s X-ray observatory
- In operation
- Launched on 10 December 1999
- Mission extended to 2010
XMM-Newton studies thousands of different X-ray emitting objects. It is the largest scientific satellite ever built in Europe, and can detect more sources of X-rays than any previous satellite.
The observatory is tackling a wide range of topics in astronomy. It has given us a deeper understanding of the physical processes taking place in stars and binary star systems in our own Galaxy and distant galaxies.
The observatory has significantly increased our understanding of the early Universe. It has also been used to study planets and comets in our own solar system. More than 1,000 scientific papers have, so far, been published using data from the spacecraft.
Achievements include the discovery of a cluster of galaxies located 9,000 million light years away, created when the Universe was still in its early development. This finding suggests that the first galaxies in the Universe started forming much sooner than scientists originally thought.
- Many celestial objects generate X-rays in extremely violent processes. But the Earth's atmosphere blocks out these X-rays. Only by placing X-ray detectors in space can such sources be detected, pinpointed and studied in detail.
- XMM-Newton gets its name from the multiple nested X-ray mirrors that form its X-ray telescope. It also honours Sir Isaac Newton whose discovery that light can be split with a prism laid the foundations of spectroscopy – one of the main diagnostic tools offered by the spacecraft.
The total length of XMM-Newton is 10 m. When its solar arrays are deployed, the satellite has a 16 m span.
XMM-Newton features the most sensitive mirrors of any X-ray telescope ever built. These are supported by a range of instruments that can measure the characteristics of the source of the X-rays, for example, their chemical composition and temperature.
The satellite was built in a laboratory 10,000 times cleaner than a typical office.
Teams from Leicester University and University College’s Mullard Space Science Laboratory have key involvement in the mission. Both groups, together with University of Birmingham, were involved in the instrument construction.
Leicester and Mullard Space Science Laboratory continue to provide support for the mission, for example, in the processing of the scientific data collected and in characterising the in-orbit performance of the instruments.
For further information, go to the XMM-Newton webpages.