Research project maps record numbers of cosmic X-ray sources

July 23, 2013
New record for cosmic X-ray sightings
X-Ray emissions help scientists map the Known Universe

Scientists led by the University of Leicester have set a new record for cosmic X-ray sources ever sighted – creating an unprecedented cosmic X-ray catalogue that will provide a valuable resource allowing astronomers to explore the extreme Universe.

The XMM-Newton Survey Science Centre, led by a team from the University of Leicester's Department of Physics and Astronomy, used the University's 'ALICE' supercomputer to help them produce a new X-ray catalogue, dubbed "3XMM".

This new catalogue contains over half a million X-ray source detections, representing a 50% increase over previous catalogues and is the largest catalogue of X-ray sources ever produced. This vast inventory is also home to some of the rarest and most extreme phenomena in the Universe, such as tidal disruption events - when a black hole swallows another star, producing prodigious outbursts of X-ray emission.

Professor Mike Watson of the University of Leicester, who leads the XMM-Newton Survey Science Centre, said: "The catalogue contains more than half a million sources, all of which are provided to a better quality than ever before.

"Using the University's £2.2m High Performance Computer meant we could process the data up to a hundred times faster than before. This was key for testing and implementing advanced new processing strategies."

"The catalogue provides enormous scope for new discoveries as well as in-depth studies of large samples. XMM-Newton is pre-eminent amongst current X-ray missions in its ability to perform `survey' science, with a chance to find previously undetected objects and then explore their properties."

The catalogue provides an exceptional dataset for generating large, well-defined samples of objects such as , clusters of galaxies, interacting compact binaries, and active stellar coronae.

The XMM-Newton Survey Science Centre is one of the teams behind the European Space Agency's (ESA) X-ray Multi-Mirror Mission (XMM-Newton). Since Earth's atmosphere blocks out all X-rays, only a telescope in space can detect and study celestial X-ray sources. The XMM-Newton mission is helping scientists to solve a number of cosmic mysteries, ranging from the enigmatic black holes to the origins of the Universe itself.

The sources in the 3XMM catalogue are identified and isolated from serendipitous data recorded by XMM-Newton's EPIC X-ray cameras, built by a team also led by the University. In each of the 600-700 observations made each year, around 70 extra sources are captured in addition to the target object which usually only takes up a small fraction of the field of view. Covering observations between February 2000 and December 2012, the catalogue contains some 531 261 X-ray source detections relating to 372 728 unique X-ray sources.

Professor Watson, who is Head of X-ray and Observational Astronomy in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, adds: "The third XMM-Newton Serendipitous Source Catalogue shows how much added value can be gained from the observations. I'd like to pay tribute to the efforts of the whole team which were crucial to completing this major undertaking.

"3XMM is the largest catalogue of X-ray sources ever produced. As such it offers an unparalleled resource for exploring cosmic X-ray populations, in particular in studying Active Galactic Nuclei (AGN) - those galaxies such as quasars which harbour a super-massive black hole at their centres. Such active galaxies dominate the detections in the 3XMM catalogue, meaning that 3XMM is the key to unlocking a storehouse of several hundred thousand AGN."

Explore further: Black hole-star pair orbiting at dizzying speed (w/ video)

Related Stories

Spiral Galaxy NGC 3627

July 15, 2013

( —The spiral galaxy NGC 3627 is located about 30 million light years from Earth. This composite image includes X-ray data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory (blue), infrared data from the Spitzer Space Telescope ...

Andromeda galaxy pops up ultraluminous X-ray sources

February 27, 2012

( -- Researchers using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, Hubble Space Telescope, Swift Gamma-ray Burst Explorer and the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton Observatory have been studying an object known as an ultraluminous ...

New type of cosmic ray discovered after 100 years

October 16, 2012

(—Using the European X-ray astronomy satellite XMM-Newton, researchers from CNRS and CEA have discovered a new source of cosmic rays. In the vicinity of the remarkable Arches cluster, near the center of the Milky ...

A cannibalistic galaxy with a powerful heart

April 4, 2012

Observations by the two of the European Space Agency's space observatories have provided a multi-wavelength view of the mysterious galaxy Centaurus A. The new images, from the Herschel Space Observatory and the XMM-Newton ...

Recommended for you

Camera on NASA's Lunar Orbiter survived 2014 meteoroid hit

May 26, 2017

On Oct. 13, 2014 something very strange happened to the camera aboard NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC), which normally produces beautifully clear images of the lunar ...

SDO sees partial eclipse in space

May 26, 2017

On May 25, 2017, NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, saw a partial solar eclipse in space when it caught the moon passing in front of the sun. The lunar transit lasted almost an hour, between 2:24 and 3:17 p.m. EDT, ...

Jupiter's complex transient auroras

May 25, 2017

Combined observations from three spacecraft show that Jupiter's brightest auroral features recorded to date are powered by both the volcanic moon Io and interaction with the solar wind.

Methanol detected for first time around young star

May 25, 2017

Methanol, a key building block for the complex organic compounds that comprise life, has been detected for the first time in the protoplanetary disk of a young, distant star. This finding could help scientists better understand ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

2.4 / 5 (9) Jul 23, 2013
Too bad the photo is useless.
1 / 5 (2) Jul 23, 2013
Thanks for linking a photo.... NOT....
1 / 5 (12) Jul 23, 2013
This vast inventory is also home to some of the rarest and most extreme phenomena in the Universe, such as tidal disruption events - when a black hole swallows another star, producing prodigious outbursts of X-ray emission.

This of course is just idle speculation, one which can NEVER be replicated by lab experiment. Another speculation, one that is supported by lab experimentation and well known physics (except by astrophysicists) is that these x-ray sources are caused by plasma double layers. Naturally occurring particle accelerators that are expected in a Universe of non-homogeneous plasma. This is probably a map of cosmic double layers. Alfven proposed that DL's should be considered a "new" celestial object.
1 / 5 (12) Jul 23, 2013
"Because of their property of generating cosmic rays, synchrotron radiation, radio noise, and occasionally exploding, Alfvén proposed, "DL's may be considered as a new class of celestial objects… For example, the heliospheric current system must close at large distances, and it is possible — perhaps likely — that this is done by a network of filamentary currents. Many such filaments may produce DL's, and some of these may explode." To give an idea of their omnipresence in space, DLs are implicated in the earth's auroral regions, extragalactic jets, stellar jets, novae and supernovae, X-ray and gamma-ray bursts, X-ray pulsars, double radio sources, solar flares, and the source of cosmic ray acceleration." Wal Thornhill from 'Alfven Triumphs Again (& Again)'

2.3 / 5 (4) Jul 23, 2013
3.7 / 5 (6) Jul 23, 2013
You may be interested to know that you can view XMM data in many different ways. See:
XMM Newton Gallery

There are also free viewers available that allow displaying data from lots of different missions that can be layered with the XMM data, including optical, infrared, radio, etc. wavelengths. See:
Best Free Astronomy Software

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.