August 1, 2013

New XMM-Newton catalogue released

The third catalogue of data from the European XMM-Newton satellite, launched in 1999, is now available to scientists along with a more precise map than ever of stars and other very-high-energy events emitting X-rays.

Third catalogue of XMM-Newton data

In 2009, a team of researchers at the IRAP astrophysics and planetology research institute, supported by CNES, used the XMM-Newton space telescope to identify a black hole 500 times more massive than the Sun - a world first. In 2010, scientists discovered a young black hole and in 2011 the oldest galaxy cluster ever observed.

Previous versions of the XMM-Newton catalogue have yielded unexpected and exciting results,” notes Nathalie Webb, a researcher at IRAP in Toulouse and the new coordinator of the XMM Survey Science Centre (SSC). “And with around 50% more data now available, there should be plenty more to come.

Operating in Earth orbit to detect celestial X-ray sources, XMM-Newton is adding to its catalogue all the time. Today, the third XMM-Newton Serendipitous Source Catalogue contains more than 500,000 objects. Thanks to its highly sensitive EPIC1 cameras, the space telescope is able to detect the faintest X-ray sources from galaxies sometimes billions of light-years2 from Earth - in other words, from the outer reaches of the Universe.

500,000 X-ray sources recorded

The 500,000-plus objects recorded in the catalogue include distant galaxy clusters, binary stars or nearby active stars, and above all a large majority of active galactic nuclei very probably with a supermassive black hole at their centre.

More rare and powerful events include X-ray emissions resulting from stars being torn apart as they are swallowed by a black hole.

The XMM-Newton catalogue is an exceptional database helping scientists to solve some of the mysteries surrounding black holes and the origins of the Universe.

I am very happy that the SSC continues to play a key role in compiling these catalogues, as they are an important showcase for the kind of science that can be done with the European XMM-Newton satellite,” concludes Nathalie Webb.

 1 European Photon Imaging Camera
2 A light-year is the distance travelled by light in one year, i.e. about 10,000 billion km