[Press & Publications] Eye of the Lobster [Space; Physics & Astronomy]

March 2000

No 66



Space scientists from the University of Leicester are all set for a new mission on board the International Space Station - inspired by the humble lobster! Researchers from the Department of Physics and Astronomy, which houses Europe's biggest academic space research group, have received the go-ahead for a novel X-ray telescope.

The European Space Agency (ESA) approved the telescope called LOBSTER and it will now be considered as a possible experiment on the International Space Station (ISS), presently under construction in Earth orbit. LOBSTER may be launched to the ISS on the Space Shuttle as early as 2007. Professor George Fraser, of the University of Leicester, said: "The unusual name of the experiment comes from the similarity of the X-ray telescope layout to the eyes of lobsters, shrimps and crayfish.

"These crustacea have eyes without lenses, which work by reflection of light from the inside of large numbers of square tubes, arrayed on the surface of a sphere.

"By mimicking the structure of the lobster eye, the Leicester researchers and our colleagues in the UK,US and Australia hope to synthesise a telescope with a huge (180 degree by 30 degree) field of view.

"This will allow them to view the whole sky every 90 minutes and monitor the variability of a huge number of X-ray emitting objects, including binary star systems in our own galaxy and distant active galactic nuclei. By contrast, current X-ray telescopes such as ESA's XMM-Newton and NASA's Chandra have much smaller fields of view - about one degree across."

If the ESA study goes well, then the scientific data from LOBSTER would be processed at the University of Leicester using data "pipelines" established for the XMM-Newton mission and the control of the instrument would be carried out from the National Space Science Centre, the Landmark Millennium Project for the East Midlands, co-founded by the University of Leicester and Leicester City Council.

LOBSTER was one of nearly 50 scientific proposals received by ESA in January 2000 in response to its request for ideas for the so-called Flexible Missions F2 and F3 which will form a major part of the Agency's space science programme in the second half of this decade.


Further information: Professor George Fraser, Space Research Centre, Department of Physics and Astronomy, e-mail gwf@star.le.ac.uk, telephone 0116 252 3542.

ESA science news ; http://sci.esa.int

Photocall: There is an opportunity to photograph the University of Leicester scientists involved in the Lobster project next to a model of the International Space Station at Mansion House, 41 Guildhall Lane, Leicester; 11am Tuesday March 28.

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Last updated: 27 March 2000 16:16
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