28 Dec 2021 14:44

Russia's Spektr-RG telescope discovers strongest quasar in universe

MOSCOW. Dec 28 (Interfax) - The Russian Spektr-RG orbital observatory has completed the fourth out of eight sky scans, Roscosmos said in a statement.

"On December 19, 2021, the Russian Spektr-RG orbital observatory completed half of the research program by performing the fourth X-scan of the galaxy and initiating the fifth scan. In all, eight scans of the kind will be carried out consistent with the research program," the state corporation said.

The telescope obtained 1.6 billion X-ray photons in the course of four full scans, Roscosmos said.

"The fourth sky scan has allowed drawing a more detailed map of over 1 million quasars and 20,000 massive clusters of galaxies located at cosmological distances in the hemisphere; the relevant data will be processed by Russian scientists," it said.

"In addition, the sky scan performed by the SRG/eRosita telescope in 2021 resulted in the discovery of the strongest known quasar with a record redshift of lines in the z = 6.2 spectrum," Roscosmos said.

"The quasar was shining when the universe was almost 20 times younger, and its mass should have been larger than a billion solar masses back then," project supervisor and member of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) Rashid Syunyayev said.

The observations aim to draw a map tens of times more sensitive than the previous ones, he said.

The telescope can see hundreds of stars emitting in the X-rays band with exoplanets orbiting around them. This is 10% percent of all nearby stars with planets (visible in the Russian half of the sky). Of all such objects in the habitable zone, no star emanates X-ray radiation, which means there could be life there, from the point of view of exposure to cosmic rays.

Spektr-RG was launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on July 13, 2019. It was built with the assistance of Germany on the orders from the RAS within the framework of the Russian federal space program. The observatory carries two X-ray telescopes, namely, ART-XC of the RAS Space Research Institute and eROSITA of Germany's Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics (MPE) operating on the principle of oblique incidence X-ray optics. The telescopes are mounted on the Navigator space platform designed by Russia's NPO Lavochkin and customized to the project needs.

The primary objective of the mission is to draw a full sky map in the soft and hard X-ray spectrum with unprecedented sensitivity.