If you've ever wanted Superman's X-ray vision, you are now one step closer to unlocking that much-coveted superpower.
A team of researchers has created a map of the universe in X-rays, providing an unprecedented look at the infinite cosmos that encapsulates our world within it.
The map was created using data from an instrument called eROSITA (Extended Roentgen Survey with an Imaging Telescope Array) onboard the German–Russian satellite mission Spectrum-Roentgen-Gamma, which launched in July of last year.
The space observatory has been recording data for the past six months, which were put together to create the X-ray map in mid-June.
The image reveals the structure of the hot gas in the Milky Way itself and the area surrounding the galaxy's disk known as the Circumgalactic Medium.
The X-ray map also shows stars with strong, magnetically active hot coronae, binary star systems with neutron stars, black holes or white dwarves, and the remnants of a supernova in our own galaxy and in nearby galaxies such as the Magellanic Clouds, two irregular dwarf galaxies in the Southern Celestial Hemisphere.
eRosita recorded over a million objects emitting X-ray radiation since it became operational in December 2019, which essentially doubled the number of known X-ray sources discovered over the last 60 years of X-ray astronomy.
"This is just a taste of what’s to come."
“With a million sources in just six months, eROSITA has already revolutionized X-ray astronomy," Kirpal Nandra, head of the high-energy astrophysics group at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, said in a statement. "But this is just a taste of what’s to come."
Most celestial objects emit matter in the form of X-ray radiation as matter is accelerated, shredded, or heated. However, the new classes of objects found were mainly active galactic nuclei as the black holes at the center of these galaxies continued to swallow up the surrounding matter and grow.
The observatory's sky survey also included flares from compact objects, merging neutron stars, and stars being swallowed by black holes.
The space telescope scours the skies at a distance of 1.5 million kilometers from Earth, beaming down data on a daily basis. So far, the team on the ground has received and processed around 165 GB of data collected by eROSITA’s seven cameras.
"This combination of sky area and depth is transformational," Nandra said. "We are already sampling a cosmological volume of the hot Universe much larger than has been possible before."
The telescope will continue to survey the X-ray sky for another three and a half years, mapping the positions of millions of galaxies in order to understand how they are clustered together by the force of gravity. Galaxies often exist in clusters that range between hundreds to thousands of them.
The plan is to create seven maps similar to the first one the team put together.
The mission also hopes to uncover the mystery behind dark energy, and its role in the expansion of the universe. Although dark energy makes up around 68 percent of energy in the universe, it has never been directly observed since it's quite, well, dark. However, astronomers believe that it is the force of dark energy, acting as a counter to gravity, that accelerates the rate of expansion for the universe and they are not sure why.
"Over the next few years, we’ll be able to probe even further, out to where the first giant cosmic structures and supermassive black holes were forming,” Nandra said.