A $273 million German astronomy satellite has detected some 50,000 X-ray sources in the most detailed look at the high-energy universe ever conducted, including a spinning neutron star that mysteriously speeds up and slows down, scientists reported.
"We have been getting brilliant X-ray pictures," Joachim E. Truemper, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute in Munich, said Tuesday. "We are very happy with it."The 5,333-pound ROSAT satellite was launched last summer by a U.S. Delta rocket. The spacecraft is equipped with a high-tech telescope to study X-rays from high-energy astronomical targets ranging from super-hot stars and galaxies to exploding suns and suspected black holes.
So far, the satellite has worked flawlessly, giving astronomers an unprecedented look at high-energy X-ray sources throughout Earth's Milky Way galaxy and beyond. The initial results from the satellite were unveiled Tuesday at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Philadelphia.
"This is the first sky survey with an imaging X-ray telescope," Truemper said. "It goes a factor of 100 deeper (into space) than previous surveys. So we see the whole sky for the first time in considerable detail."
Along with observing a variety of previously unknown supernova remnants and the glow from hot gas throughout the Milky Way, ROSAT has been used to study several black hole candidates. Black holes are thought to be the collapsed remnants of massive stars with gravity so intense not even light can escape.
While such bizarre objects are invisible by definition, they should be detectable indirectly by looking for the radiation that would be released when dust and gas is heated up as it is accelerated by a black hole's gravity. But ROSAT has not yet confirmed the existence of such bodies.
But the satellite has generated a flood of data on other astronomical objects, including enigmatic quasars.