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The Einstein Probe of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) was launched into space on January 9, 2024 aboard a Changcheng (Long March) 2C rocket from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in China. With the successful launch, the Einstein Probe began its mission to explore the sky and search for bursts of X-ray light from mysterious objects such as neutron stars and black holes.
The Einstein Probe is a CAS-led collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics (MPE) in Germany. “I would like to congratulate our colleagues at CAS on the successful launch of an innovative mission that will make significant advances in the field of X-ray astronomy,” said Carol Mundell, ESA's Director of Science. “At ESA, we value international cooperation to advance science and deepen our understanding of the universe. I wish the Einstein Probe team a very successful mission.”
To efficiently monitor the entire sky and routinely discover new sources of X-ray telescope (FXT). The visual design of the WXT is inspired by the eyes of lobsters. A standard design uses hundreds of thousands of square fibers that direct light to detectors. This gives the Einstein Probe the unique ability to observe nearly a tenth of the celestial sphere at a single glance. New X-ray sources observed by WXT are immediately included in FXT. The FXT has a narrower image, but is more sensitive and captures more detail.
ESA supported the testing and calibration of WXT's X-ray detectors and optics and developed the mirror structure for one of the two FXT telescopes in collaboration with MPE and Media Lario (Italy). MPE supplied the mirror assembly for the other FXT telescope, as well as the detector modules for both FXT units. ESA also supplied the system to divert unwanted electrons away from the detectors (electron diverter). Throughout the mission, ESA ground stations will be used to help download data from the spacecraft.
In exchange for these contributions, ESA will have access to 10% of the data generated by the Einstein Probe's observations. The mission's ability to detect new X-ray sources and observe how they change over time is key to understanding the most active processes in the universe. Powerful X-ray bursts occur when neutron stars collide, supernovas explode, and matter is swallowed by black holes or is ejected by the overwhelming magnetic fields that surround them.
“I look forward to the discoveries that the Einstein Probe will enable us to make,” says Eric Kolkers, ESA's Einstein Probe project scientist. “Its unique, wide view allows us to take pictures. By rapidly detecting the X-ray burst, we can determine the origin of many gravitational wave events.”
After launch, the Einstein probe reached its orbit at an altitude of about 600 kilometers. The spacecraft orbits Earth every 96 minutes at an inclination of 29 degrees, and can observe almost the entire night sky in just three orbits. Over the next six months, the operations team will focus on testing and calibrating the devices. After this preparation phase, the Einstein Probe will monitor the entire sky in X-rays for at least three years.
source: European Space Agency
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