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Astronomers obtain first large-field X-ray maps of sky

BEIJING, Aug. 29 (Xinhua) — Chinese astronomers released the world’s first batch of large-field X-ray maps of the sky captured by a small satellite put into orbit last month.

The Wide-field X-ray Telescope (WXT), launched into space on July 27 by a solid-propellant rocket, is a large-field X-ray imaging telescope, the first of its kind in the world, according to the National Astronomical Observatory of China (NAOC).

After a four-day in-orbit observation, the telescope obtained X-ray images and energy spectra of many celestial bodies in the Milky Way galaxy and beyond.

WXT is equipped with 36 micro-pore lobster-eye glasses and 4 large-array CMOS sensors, all developed by China, and its observation field of view can reach 340 square degrees, some 100 times larger than other similar telescopes.

It is an experimental module for the Einstein-Probe (EP) satellite in the pipeline. A total of 12 WXT modules will be mounted on the new satellite.

EP is a mission tasked with discovering celestial bodies that emit X-rays during fierce changes as well as quiescent black holes with transient high-energy radiation.

WXT has observed the central celestial region of the Milky Way. The results showed that a single glance could detect X-rays from multiple directions, including those from stellar black holes and neutron stars. The findings are highly consistent with the simulations.

An X-ray imaging of the famous Cygnus supernova remnant demonstrated that WXT’s lobster-eye glasses can capture diffuse targets, and that WXT’s CMOS sensors are able to process with high spectral resolutions.

The probe further spotted the relatively faint X-ray signals from a quasar 814 million light years away. Quasar is a star-like object far away in space that produces bright light and radio waves.

A large Magellanic Cloud nearby the Milky Way galaxy was also spotted within the WXT’s radius, according to NAOC.

A pilot run in August indicated that WXT is operating normally, laying a solid foundation for the EP mission, according to NAOC.

Yuan Weimin, chief scientist of EP who works with NAOC, said the results are very exciting and attest to the instrument’s capability in obtaining quality scientific data as expected.

WXT is co-developed by the NAOC and Shanghai Institute of Technical Physics under the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

NAOC released the data during the China Space Science Assembly held in Taiyuan, capital city of Shanxi Province, which concluded Sunday.


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