December 1999


XMM will revolutionise the study of X-rays coming from the Universe. Sources of X-rays include black holes, exploding stars, pairs of stars orbiting very close together and the centre of galaxy clusters -these are the phenomena XMM will study.

By being more sensitive to X-rays than any other telescope XMM will see further back in time than has been possible until now.

XMM stands for X-ray Multi-Mirror. It is Europe's largest scientific satellite. The 10 metre tall craft houses 120m2 of mirrors, each coated in 0.5 microns of gold to carefully reflect each incoming X-ray. XMM will launch from Korou, French Guiana on 10 December.

The University of Leicester has a major role in the European Space Agency's Mission. It will provide Europe's largest ever astronomical observatory satellite, which will study X-ray emissions from many classes of cosmic sources ranging from nearby stars to the most distant galaxies.

The University of Leicester has led the development of the ultra sensitive EPIC X-ray camera for XMM. EPIC will detect and investigate these distant sources. The EPIC camera is unique in its use of advanced CCD detectors, which were developed jointly by the University of Leicester and British industry, and which now are finding wide ranging industrial and medical applications, including their use in X-ray dental radiography.

His Royal Highness Prince Philip was shown the EPIC camera under test in the Space Research Centre's cleanroom when he visited the University earlier this year. He was presented with a table-top model of the XMM spacecraft as a gift from the European Space Agency.

The High Throughput X-ray Spectroscopy Mission (XMM) is the second ESA Horizon-2000 Cornerstone mission and is dedicated to astrophysical spectroscopy. The mission is to be launched on an Ariane-5, and will be operated for ten years. The orbit is highly eccentric and gives 42 hours of observation per orbit. XMM will be the most sensitive X-ray satellite ever built.

The European Photon Imaging Camera (EPIC) is the main focal plane instrument of XMM. The EPIC consortium comprises groups from the United Kingdom, Italy, France and Germany. University of Leicester is the Principal Investigating Institute for EPIC.

XMM's payload comprises three instruments:

  • EPIC (European Photon Imaging Camera, the main focal plane instrument providing CCD imaging and spectroscopy at the focus of three XMM mirror systems. Two of the three cameras heads employ Metal Oxide Semiconductor (MOS) CCDs (manufactured by EEV of Chelmsford, UK) and the third contains pn CCDs. The MOS CCD cameras are the responsibility of the United Kingdom (University of Leicester and Birmingham University). The pn CCD camera is the responsibility of the German groups at AI Tubingen and MPE Garching.
  • RGS (Reflection Grating Spectrometer) has gratings mounted behind two of the mirrors of XMM. These gratings produce X-ray spectra on two strips of EEV MOS CCDs.
  • OM (Optical Monitor) is an optical telescope with a sensitivity down to the 24th magnitude. Its role is to monitor the optical flux from X-ray sources observed by EPIC, and to aid in identification.
  • Note to newsdesk:

    For further information please contact:

    Martin Turner, University of Leicester, 0116 252 3514, mjlt@star.le.ac.uk

    Gordon Stewart, University of Leicester, 0116 252 3554, stu@le.ac.uk

    Charlotte Allen or Mark Wells at the PPARC press office: 01793 442012 /442100, email: charlotte_allen@pparc.ac.uk / mark_wells@pparc.ac.uk

    Mr Mark Wells, Particle Physics & Astronomy Research Council, 01793 442100, mark_wells@pparc.ac.uk

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    Last updated: 16 December 1999 11:58
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