Athena: the next-generation of X-ray Observatories!

The Athena (Advanced Telescope for High ENergy Astrophysics) mission is the second long-range space mission (L2) of the long term program “Cosmic Vision” of the European Space Agency (ESA). This mission is dedicated to the scientific theme “The hot and violent Universe” which it plans to explore with the launch in 2033 of a large X-ray observatory designed by a consortium of European institutes, particularly France, Germany and Italy, and with US and Japanese participation.

By measuring precisely the energy of the X-rays emitted by the hot gas trapped in galaxy clusters, X-IFU will enable key measurements of its physical parameters: temperature, velocity, chemical elements. Credits: X-IFU Consortium. Copyrights: ©DB/X-IFU.

The theme poses two key astrophysical questions:

• How does ordinary matter assemble into the large-scale structures we see today? and

• How do black holes grow and shape the Universe?

To address the first question, it will be necessary to map hot gas structures in the Universe – specifically the gas in clusters and groups of galaxies, and the intergalactic medium – determine their physical properties and track their evolution through cosmic time.

To answer the second question, supermassive black holes (SMBH) must be revealed, even in obscured environments, out into the early Universe, and both the inflows and outflows of matter and energy as the black holes grow must be understood.

M82 Athena/WFI SIXTE (Simulation of X-ray Telescopes) simulation of starburst galaxy M82. Credit: T. Dauser (SIXTE Team) & ACO.

Because most of the baryonic component of the Universe is locked up in hot gas at temperatures of millions of degrees, and because of the extreme energetics of the processes close to the event horizon of black holes, understanding the Hot and Energetic Universe requires space-based observations in the X-ray portion of the electromagnetic spectrum.

By combining a large X-ray telescope with state-of-the-art scientific instruments, WFI (Wide Field Imager) and X-IFU (Integral Field Unit), Athena will be able to make an important contribution to answering these questions. Athena will perform very sensitive measurements on a wide range of celestial objects. It will investigate the chemical evolution of the hot plasma permeating the intergalactic space in cluster of galaxies, search for elusive observational features of the Warm-Hot Intergalactic Medium, investigate powerful outflows ejected from accreting black holes across their whole mass spectrum, and study their impact on the host galaxy, and identify sizeable samples of comparatively rare populations of Active Galactic Nuclei (AGN) that are key to understanding the concurrent cosmological evolution of accreting black holes and galaxies. Among them are highly obscured AGN by a large amount of dust and gas and AGN in the Early Universe.

To learn more about the X-ray observatories and all about the Athena mission, watch the following video created by IFCA and powered by AHEAD 2020. For more information on Athena mission you may visit the official webpage: or follow Athena on Facebook (@athena.xray.observatory) and Twitter (@AthenaXobs).

X-ray telescopes to unveil the secrets of the Universe. EN, GR, ES and IT subtitles.