Record survey by X-ray scope

Space scientists have compiled the biggest ever survey of the universe as seen through X-ray eyes. It catalogues nearly a quarter of a million objects observed by a European space telescope called XMM Newton.

Impression of XMM NewtonTheir results will be an invaluable aid for astronomers studying some of the most violent activity in deep space from objects such as black holes.

The 2XMM catalogue was created by the XMM-Newton Survey Science Centre, a consortium of institutions led by the University of Leicester, on behalf of the European Space Agency.

A total of 3,491 pictures of the sky were examined to locate the vast number of objects beaming out X-rays. The satellite has been operating since it was launched in 1999 and has found some of the most distant galaxies in the universe.

Professor Mike Watson, principal investigator at Leicester, commented: “The 2XMM catalogue is the largest compilation of X-ray emitting objects ever made, containing nearly a quarter of a million entries. This has been possible because of the longevity of the XMM-Newton mission and the highly sensitive instruments onboard the satellite.”

He added: “XMM-Newton is particularly suited to measuring the more penetrating X-rays which makes it ideal for finding the signatures of accreting black holes that are obscured behind gas and dust in many galaxies.

“The 2XMM catalogue is already unveiling new, exciting and unusual X-ray sources, including evidence of hidden violent activity in the centres of many distant galaxies that were previously thought to be quiet.”

Another X-ray telescope, called Chandra, revealed the presence of a thousand black holes in a snapshot of the sky earlier this year. Even more anazingly, it observed a background “fog” that astronomers believe could be 300 million super-massive black holes.

Picture: An artist’s impression of XMM Newton in space.

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Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.
Paul Sutherland

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Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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