NASA and Japan's X-ray satellite space 'scope sends first snaps of distant galaxies

Calibration is done, operations nominal, science starts in August

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) announced on Monday that the X-ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission (XRISM) – its joint mission with NASA – has transitioned into nominal operations.

XRISM is a space telescope that uses X-rays to investigate distant stars. While XRISM is not as sophisticated as the James Webb telescope, it is a significant advance in X-ray astronomy – and as those rays have a shorter wavelength than the infrared light the Webb watches, the Japanese 'scope offers us a different view of the universe.

The spacecraft is currently conducting an initial calibration and performance verification operation, and will begin astronomical observations based on research proposals in August, JAXA announced on Monday.

The European Space Agency (ESA) is one of the orgs that will use XRISM, having secured eight percent of the observing time in exchange for providing hardware and scientific advice.

JAXA reported that XRISM had "achieved excellent instrument performance in orbit, including spectral performance that exceeds the initial target, and is expected to bring about a variety of discoveries in the future."

The commissioning period – the time during which mission boffins verified that the satellite's onboard equipment was all working five by five before commencing X-ray observations – lasted three months.

To show off the 'scope's abilities, JAXA released two photos captured by XRISM.

The first is a graph of the X-ray spectrum of a galaxy cluster 240 million light years away called Perseus. The measurements of plasma temperature and velocity were taken by XRISM's onboard soft X-ray spectrometer, dubbed Resolve. According to JAXA, the shot shows how clusters of galaxies form and evolve.

In the background of the X-ray energy plot, JAXA placed a composite image of X-rays, visible light and radio wave near the observation area.


XRISM's take on the Perseus Galaxy Cluster – Click to enlarge

XRISM only has the ability to observe X-rays above 1.8keV, rather than the intended 300eV, because a protective shutter covering the Resolve instrument's detector malfunctioned and will not open. If you've ever got back from a holiday and discovered you left your lens cap on for half the photos, you'll know how JAXA feels about that.

The second image was taken by XRISM's onboard soft X-ray imager, Xtend. The image shows the remnants of a supernova that was first seen on Earth in AD 1006, when the first light from the explosion reached observers, and is therefore named SN 1006. Since then, it has grown to a diameter of 65 light years and is expanding at a speed of 5,000 kilometers per second.


XRISM's Xtend image SN 1066 – Click to enlarge

XRISM hitched a ride into space along with JAXA's Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) on a Mitsubishi H-IIA vehicle launched last September.

SLIM landed on the Moon in January in a suboptimal position, which caused trouble for its solar panels and power supply operations. But the lander survived a long lunar night and resumed limited operations. It's currently hibernating again. ®

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