Detecting the Universe's hot spots
Name The mission derives its name from its X-ray Multi-Mirror design. It also honours Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727), the English physicist and mathematician. His demonstration that light can be split with a prism into its different colours forms the basis of the science that XMM-Newton is using.
Description XMM-Newton can detect more X-ray sources than any previous satellite. It is helping to solve many cosmic mysteries of the violent Universe, from what happens in and around black holes to the formation of galaxies in the early universe. It is built and designed to return data for a decade. XMM-Newton's high-tech design uses over 170 wafer-thin cylindrical mirrors spread over three telescopes. Its orbit takes it almost a third of the way to the Moon, so that astronomers can enjoy long, uninterrupted views of celestial objects.
Launch 10 December 1999 (Ariane-5 at Kourou, French Guiana)
Status In operation.
Journey XMM-Newton, in its 48-hour orbit, travels to nearly one third of the distance to the Moon. The apogee (furthest point) is 114 000 kilometres away from Earth and the satellite travels slowly. At the perigee (closest point) it passes 7000 kilometres above Earth and nine times faster (at a speed of 24 120 kilometres per hour). XMM-Newton's highly eccentric operational orbit has been chosen so that its instruments can work outside the radiation belts surrounding the Earth.
Notes XMM-Newton is the biggest science satellite ever built in Europe. Its telescope mirrors are the most sensitive ever developed in the world – 200 square metres of highly polished gold and so smooth that no single gold atom sticks out from the surface by more than its own size.
The space observatory was built in conditions of exceptional cleanliness - to preserve its ultra-polished mirrors. The laboratory was 10 000 times cleaner than a typical office.
Controlling XMM-Newton's orbit as well as manoeuvring the 4000-kilogram spacecraft from target to target requires about 500 grams of hydrazine fuel per month.
XMM-Newton is closing in on some of space's most exotic matter. Thermonuclear blasts on a neutron star's surface reveal the nature of matter inside neutron stars.
An analysis of 13.5 thousand-million-year-old X-rays, captured by ESA's XMM-Newton satellite, has shown that either the Universe may be older than astronomers had thought or that mysterious, undiscovered 'iron factories' litter the early Universe.
Last update: 23 July 2003