Unlocking cosmic mysteries: Japan’s XRISM satellite offers first glimpse into the X-ray cosmos

Japan’s XRISM (X-ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission) satellite, a collaborative effort with NASA and ESA, marks a significant leap in space exploration.

In a spectacular achievement for space exploration, Japan’s XRISM (X-ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission) satellite, in collaboration with NASA and ESA, has provided humanity with its inaugural look into the X-ray cosmos. Launched on September 6, 2023, the XRISM mission, led by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), opens a new chapter in the understanding of celestial phenomena, offering a glimpse into the hidden realms of the universe.

The XRISM mission, designed to detect X-rays with energies reaching up to 12,000 electron volts, utilizes cutting-edge technology to explore the universe’s hottest regions, largest structures, and objects with the most potent gravitational forces.

At the core of the XRISM mission are two instrumental components: Resolve and Xtend. Resolve, a powerful spectrograph, delves into the chemical makeup of celestial objects. Examining N132D, a supernova remnant in the Large Magellanic Cloud, Resolve provided the most detailed X-ray spectrum of the object to date, showcasing peaks associated with various elements.

Brian Williams, the NASA XRISM project scientist at Goddard, emphasized Resolve’s capabilities by expressing that Resolve would enable them to observe the shapes of these lines in a manner never possible before. He mentioned that it would allow them to determine not only the abundances of the various elements present but also their temperatures, densities, and directions of motion at unprecedented levels of precision.

On the other hand, Xtend, an advanced X-ray imager with a wide field of view, displayed its prowess by capturing an image of Abell 2319, a galaxy cluster undergoing a major merger event. Xtend’s capability to observe areas 60 per cent larger than the apparent size of the full moon showcases its potential to explore vast cosmic landscapes.

Lillian Reichenthal, the XRISM project manager at NASA’s Goddard, revealed that in the initial phases of its mission, XRISM had surpassed expectations. She stated that during the commissioning process, Resolve had already exceeded its initial goals. The original aim was to achieve a spectral resolution of 7 electron volts with the instrument, but now, in orbit, they were achieving 5. Reichenthal explained that this meant they would obtain even more detailed chemical maps with each spectrum captured by XRISM.

Japan’s XRISM satellite emerges as a beacon of scientific advancement, offering humanity a new lens to peer into the enigmatic world of the X-ray cosmos, promising to unlock cosmic mysteries that have long eluded our understanding.