New view of universe revealed by X-ray

February 11, 2000

The European Space Agency this week released the first images of the universe to be produced by its X-ray multi-mirror observatory.

Martin Turner of Leicester University, lead scientist in the team that developed the observatory's main X-ray camera, said the images were "tremendously exciting".

Launched last December on an Ariane 5 rocket, the observatory, Xmm-Newton, boasts three X-ray cameras. They were used to take several views of two different extra-galactic regions of the universe. The successful production of the images indicate the cameras are in full working order.

Dr Turner said: "In the large magellenic cloud we can clearly see the elements that make up stars and planets being released in giant stellar explosions of enormous energy. This is what we built the cameras for and they have fulfilled their purpose."

Ian Halliday, chief executive of the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council, said the satellite's success was a big boost for British science.

He said: "The United Kingdom is involved in all three instruments and provides the lead scientist on two - a clear recognition of the contribution we are making to world science."

The spacecraft also has an optical camera built by the UK's Mullard Space Science Centre, which simultaneously took shots of the same area imaged by the X-ray cameras.

ESA said that after further calibration and performance tests of the spacecraft's instruments in March, a full scientific observation programme will be launched.

Lord Sainsbury, minister for science, said: "This is an excellent example of what can result when European knowledge, people and resources are pooled."

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