A new instrument to study the extreme universe—the X-Ray polarimeter X-Calibur

January 28, 2015, World Scientific Publishing
The X-ray beam enters the scattering slab (blueish glow) from the top. The X-rays are scattered in the slab with a scattering distribution characteristic depending on the polarization properties of the incoming beam. The scattering distribution is measured with semiconductor X-ray detectors surrounding the scattering slab on all four sides. The digitized signals are received through the readout electronics that are attached at the back-side of each detector. Credit: JAI

What are the high-energy processes in the Universe that occur in the immediate vicinity of a black hole? To study a question like this one cannot simply utilize a high-resolution telescope. Even with the best available telescopes, it is difficult or even impossible to directly resolve the regions of interest and the energies emitted from such objects extend to much higher energies, e.g. X-rays. The astrophysics research group at Washington University in St.Louis built an instrument that is capable to measure the polarization properties of X-rays. This instrument, once flown in space, can be used in a novel approach to study the most extreme objects in the Universe, such as black holes and neutron stars.

Only the most extreme objects in the universe are capable of producing high-energy particles and emit radiation with energy in the X-ray band and above. However, the regions of interest (black hole vicinities, formation zones of relativistic plasma jets, etc.) are too small to be spatially resolved with purely imaging instruments. The solution is to perform indirect measurements of those regions using the polarization properties of the emitted radiation - such as the orientation of the of the X-ray photons. Such observations are regularly performed at radio and optical wave bands, but sensitive polarization techniques have not yet available for observations at X-ray energies - needed to study the most extreme objects in the Universe.

The astrophysics research group at Washington University, led by Prof. Krawczynski and Prof. Beilicke, designed, built, and tested an X-ray polarimeter named X-Calibur. This , once flown in space or as a scientific balloon payload, will be capable to study the energetic environments very close to the black hole.

"Only five years ago, we came up with the first design of the X-Ray polarimeter," Assistant Professor Matthias Beilicke said, "two years later we had a working prototype module and now the full instrument is ready to fly on an astrophysics mission." "We are planning to have a scientific test flight of the instrument as a balloon payload at an altitude of >120,000 feet in the year 2016," Prof. Krawczynski said.

Explore further: High-speed jets from a possible new class of galaxy

Related Stories

High-speed jets from a possible new class of galaxy

January 19, 2015

Seyfert galaxies are similar to spiral galaxies except that they have extraordinarily prominent, bright nuclei, sometimes as luminous as 100 billion Suns. Their huge energies are thought to be generated as matter falls towards ...

A recoiling, supermassive black hole

January 26, 2015

When galaxies collide, the central supermassive black holes that reside at their cores will end up orbiting one another in a binary pair, at least according to current simulations. Einstein's general theory of relativity ...

Will the real monster black hole please stand up?

January 8, 2015

(Phys.org)—A new high-energy X-ray image from NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, has pinpointed the true monster of a galactic mashup. The image shows two colliding galaxies, collectively called Arp ...

Recommended for you

Making stars when the universe was half its age

January 18, 2019

The universe is about 13.8 billion years old, and its stars are arguably its most momentous handiwork. Astronomers studying the intricacies of star formation across cosmic time are trying to understand whether stars and the ...

Saturn hasn't always had rings

January 17, 2019

One of the last acts of NASA's Cassini spacecraft before its death plunge into Saturn's hydrogen and helium atmosphere was to coast between the planet and its rings and let them tug it around, essentially acting as a gravity ...

0 comments

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.