On January 9, 2024, a sophisticated X-ray space telescope, the Einstein Probe, was successfully launched from the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre in China. The mission, representing a significant milestone in astrophysics, is the result of a collaboration between the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics (MPE). The purpose of the mission is to explore the universe, searching for black holes and other compact objects.
The Mission’s Goals
The primary goal of the Einstein Probe is to observe changes, in X-ray brightness across the sky. Throughout its three-year three mission, the probe aims to detect X-rays emitted by bodies like black holes and neutron stars, which are actively accumulating matter. These entities hold interest for astrophysicists as studying them can yield knowledge, about how the universe was formed and has evolved.
Einstein Probe: A Technical Deep Dive
The Einstein Probe is a satellite weighing 1,450 kg and measuring 3 by 3.4 meters. It carries two X-ray telescopes: the field X-ray Telescope (WXT) and the Follow-up X-ray Telescope (FXT). This satellite was launched into a low Earth orbit at an altitude of 600 km, from China’s Xichang Satellite Launch Center using a Long March 2C rocket.
The Einstein Probe is distinguished by its innovative optics, inspired by the structure of lobster eyes, allowing an extremely wide field of view. In just three Earth orbits, the probe can cover almost the entire night sky. This feature makes it unique compared to other ESA missions, such as XRISM and Athena, which have superior spectral and spatial resolution but have a more limited field of view.
In addition, the mission of the Einstein Probe is not limited to simple sky observation. Its goal is to constantly monitor the sky for variations in the intensity of X-rays, caused by cosmic transient phenomena or variable objects. During its three-year mission, the probe is expected to discover X-rays from compact objects, such as black holes and neutron stars, that are accreting material. These discoveries could lead to new insights into the formation and evolution of the universe.
Implications for the Future of Astrophysics
The launch of the Einstein Probe opens new perspectives for high-energy astrophysics. It is expected that the data collected by the mission will significantly contribute to our understanding of the high-energy physics of the universe. The international collaboration between China and Europe in this mission highlights the importance of cooperation in the field of space science.
#EinsteinProbe carries 2 main instruments: Wide-field X-ray Telescope (#WXT) & Follow-up X-ray Telescope (#FXT).— Wu Lei (@wulei2020) January 9, 2024
WXT uses #lobstereye optics technology, which can achieve wide-field observation & X-ray-focused imaging. (Photo: Ling Siqin/CFP) pic.twitter.com/j8t5LVmLFn
The Einstein Probe mission has a focus, on studying black holes. There are black holes classified as “dormant” since they don’t emit visible light. Nevertheless, their gravitational force can shred neighboring stars resulting in a release of X-rays. The primary goal of the Einstein Probe is to detect these emissions, which could unveil black holes. Such breakthroughs have the potential to revolutionize our knowledge of black hole physics and greatly impact our understanding of the universe.