The European Space Agency's X-ray Multi-Mirror satellite is the most powerful X-ray telescope ever placed in orbit. Scientists are sure the mission will help solve many cosmic mysteries, ranging from enigmatic black holes to the formation of galaxies.
Many celestial objects generate X-rays in extremely violent processes. But Earth's atmosphere blocks out these X-rays, messengers of what occurred in the distant past when stars were born or died, and clues to our future. Only by placing X-ray detectors in space can such sources be detected, pinpointed and studied in detail. XMM-Newton, the largest science satellite ever built in Europe, has an unprecedented sensitivity.
XMM-Newton carries three very advanced X-ray telescopes. They each contain 58 high-precision concentric mirrors, delicately nested to offer the largest collecting area possible to catch the elusive X-rays. These Mirror Modules allow XMM-Newton to detect millions of sources, far more than any previous X-ray mission.
What excites astronomers most is that the satellite's highly eccentric orbit, travelling out to nearly one third of the distance to the Moon, enables them to make very long and uninterrupted observations. Peering into deep space, XMM-Newton's science payload will considerably increase our knowledge of very hot objects created when the Universe was very young.
XMM-Newton is ESA's second 'Cornerstone' mission. Development and construction of the spacecraft has overcome major technological hurdles. Its wafer-thin X-ray mirrors are a miracle of engineering and the smoothest ever built. With its five X-ray imaging cameras and spectrographs, and its optical monitoring telescope, the new space observatory will for the next ten years be at the cutting edge of astronomy.
Source: European Space Agency XMM-Newton Website