China to launch lobster eye-like X-ray astronomical satellite this year

It’s called the Einstein Probe and it’s meant to observe the changing universe.
Loukia Papadopoulos
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An illustration of the Einstein Probe.

Einstein Probe 

China has ambitious plans to launch a new X-ray astronomical satellite called the Einstein Probe (EP) at the end of this year.

This is according to a report by the ChinaDaily published on Saturday and quoting Yuan Weimin, principal investigator of the satellite project.

"The satellite has entered the final stage of development," he said at the recent 35th National Symposium on Space Exploration.

EP will have many missions, including capturing the first light from supernova explosions, helping search for gravitational wave sources, and observing the transient phenomena in the universe.

The tool will hopefully finally shed light on the many transient and explosive sources in the universe, such as black holes that are devouring stars.

"These fast transient sources are crucial to cosmology and galaxy studies, but are currently poorly understood by scientists," said Weimin.

EP was based on an animal feature: the lobster's eye, which allows light from all directions to reflect in the tubes and converges on the retina, giving the ocean dweller a large field of view.

Scientists at the X-ray Imaging Laboratory of NAOC mimicked the lobster eye to create a telescope to detect X-rays in space.

The technology has been in development since 2010 but only recently made a breakthrough.

"Thanks to the lobster-eye telescope technology, the Einstein Probe will be able to monitor the currently poorly known soft X-ray band with a large field of view and high sensitivity," Weimin added.

"This technology will revolutionize monitoring of the X-ray sky, and the test module shows the strong scientific potential of the Einstein Probe mission," said Paul O'Brien, head of Astrophysics, School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Leicester.

Cloaked black holes and more

Now, the EP will undertake systematic sky surveys to monitor high-energy transient objects in the universe.

Among the many possible outcomes of the mission, cloaked black holes and a map of the distribution of black holes in the universe are of key interest as they can help us to study the celestial objects’ formation and evolution. EP will also search for X-ray signals accompanying gravitational wave events.

The satellite program has seen the collaboration of many institutions around the globe including the European Space Agency, the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Germany and the French space agency participating in it, revealed ChinaDaily.

China first tested the now famous satellite in December of 2022.

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