Science

X-ray experiment for a 15-minute spaceflight to study supernova remnants

A NASA-funded sounding rocket mission is ready to take a short trip into space to test new technologies and gather new information from the remains of an exploding star.

The High-Resolution Microcalorimetric X-Ray Imaging, or Micro-X, experiment is scheduled to begin in August. 21 from the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

Sounding rockets do not reach orbit, but instead send their payloads above the atmosphere for several minutes before being pulled back towards Earth by gravity.

During its short stay in space, Micro-X will gather X-rays to study Cassiopeia A, a massive bubble of material left over from the supernova explosion that marked the death of a massive star 11,000 light-years from Earth.

Case A is known to be one of the most studied objects in the sky, but the experiment is aimed at obtaining new information.

Read also: Supernova debris emits cosmic rays in deep space

“Micro-X resolution is about 50 times better than existing orbiting observatories,” Enectali Figueroa-Feliciano, professor at Northwestern University and chief investigator of the Micro-X mission, said in a statement. (will open in a new tab). “The energy spectrum of X-rays is like a fingerprint showing the composition, history and state of the gas and emissions from the explosion.”

In addition to its own science facilities, Micro-X’s mission also includes testing new detector technologies for future missions that may use them. This could include the ATHENA mission led by the European Space Agency, although this could be affected by ESA’s plans to downsize the project to contain costs.

If the flight goes according to plan, the Micro-X will descend safely to the ground for recovery. “This project has the potential to conduct interesting scientific research over several flights. We hope to bring it back, repair it and get it up and running again,” Figueroa-Feliciano said.

You can follow the progress of Micro-X via Instagram (will open in a new tab).

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