Leicester University X-ray and Observational Astronomy Group

Julian Osborne : Future

Recently I have been trying to ensure that high energy astronomy continues in the UK. I have been seeking out involvements in up-coming potential projects, as the current fleet of X-ray satellites has been operating for a few years now.


Lobster: Finding the most distant objects in the Universe

[simulated lobster sky image]
Simulated sky image from the Spectrum-X-Gamma Lobster wide-field telescope for a 5 Mega-second exposure of a 5x5 degreee area.

Lobster is a proposed NASA Explorer satellite designed to locate and measure the distance to Gamma-Ray Bursts. It builds on a previous concept designed for the International Space Station and considered for inclusion on the Russian Spectrum-X-Gamma satellite, and extends this with an onboard Infra-Red telescope. Lobster optics give a huge instantaneous grasp (ie sky coverage times collecting area), making them an attractive option during the coming era of all-of-the-sky-all-of-the-time ambitions in astronomy generally. The Lobster optics are square-pore microchannel plates, which have the same internal reflections as the eyes of lobsters and similar animals.

The results of the NASA selection process are due before the end of October 2011. Launch would be in 2017.


The Cherekov Telescope Array

[CTA artist's view]
A simulated view of a CTA observatory location. It shows the different sizes, numbers and locations of the telescopes. Neither the landscape nor the telescope designs are realistic.

CTA is an ambitious new gamma-ray observatory planned with sites in both the northern and southern hemispheres (the potential locations are currently being evaluated). It will work in the 30 GeV to 30 Tev band, detecting the synchrotron radiation emitted as the gamma-rays interact with the atmosphere above the telescopes.

CTA is currently in a preparatory phase, with the detailed designs being worked out. The UK plays major roles in a number of areas, including the design of the smallest (highest energy) telescopes and the simulation of the performance of the array.


Satellite Variable Object Monitor

[The SVOM satellite]
The SVOM spacecraft has a coded mask GRB telescope (ECLAIRs), two non-imaging high-energy gamma-ray monitors (GRM), a sensitive optical telescope (VT), and an X-ray telescope (MXT).

The French and Chinese space agencies are collaborating on a new Gamma-Ray Burst satellite called SVOM. Planned for launch in 2017, it will detect around 70 GRBs a year. This autonomus, rapid-slewing satellite has a number of similarities to Swift, but its GRB telescope works at lower energies and its optical telescope will be more sensitive and cover a wider range of wavelengths.

Leicester aim to contribute to the X-ray telescope (the MXT), which features a novel light-weight focussing optic consisting of slumped square-pore microchannel plates. This optic is a clone of that on MIXS-T, an instrument on the ESA spacecraft Bepicolombo designed to study the composition of the surface of Mercury.

Athena: a large ESA X-ray satellite observatory

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The arrangement of the mirror elements for the two telescopes of Athena, they consist of silicon pore optics.
Athena is the latest manifestation of a long-held desire to have an X-ray observatory in the post XMM-Newton and Chandra era. Previous observatory concepts in this line have been Xeus and the International X-ray Observatory (IXO). Now, in its Europe-led form, Athena will consist of two identical co-aligned telescopes having a vast collecting area, one will have a very high spectral resolution camera (the X-ray Microcalorimeter), and the other will have a wide field high time resolution camera (the Wide Field Imager).

The next decision on by ESA on continuation of Athena is due in Feburary 2012, launch would be in 2022.


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Julian Osborne: 21-Sep-2011