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The BBC's David Gregory reports
"A massive European collaboration"
 real 28k

The BBC's David Gregory reports
XMM looks at the hot parts of the Universe
 real 28k

Thursday, 10 February, 2000, 14:06 GMT
Space X-ray images revealed

Stars are dying and being born in the Large Magellanic Cloud Stars are dying and being born in the Large Magellanic Cloud

By BBC News Online science editor Dr David Whitehouse

One of the most powerful X-ray telescopes in space has been switched on, allowing scientists to get a new perspective on galaxies that are millions of light years from our own.

Europe's new X-ray Multi-Mirror (XMM) observatory, now renamed the Newton observatory, has sent back some dramatic first images. They include the wreckage of exploded stars scattered across vast tracts of space; super-hot gas being sucked into a black hole; and a stellar nursery where new stars are born out of the wreckage of dead ones.

The images caused great excitement The images caused great excitement
XMM, the most expensive science project undertaken by the European Space Agency, joins the Nasa Chandra X-ray observatory as part of a two-pronged exploration of the Universe in the high-energy end of the electromagnetic spectrum.

X-rays come from the hottest and most violent parts of the cosmos. In one XMM image, what is thought to be hot gas around a black hole shines through a dense cloud of material with an intense blue glow.

Stellar explosions

In another, a series of massive stellar explosions, triggered by a collision, emit copious X-rays. They are seen as a red halo.

XMM was successfully launched from Kourou, French Guiana by an Ariane 5 rocket in December, 1999. The telescope's doors were opened midway through January, when tests began on the observatory's detectors and on the structure of the spacecraft itself.

The Hickson-16 group reveals colliding galaxies The Hickson-16 group reveals colliding galaxies
Mission controllers say that the spacecraft is extremely stable, its telescopes are focusing perfectly, and the instruments are working as expected.

Encouraged by this, astronomers made the first scientific observations between 19 and 24 January. These views, featuring a variety of X-ray objects, were chosen to demonstrate the capabilities of the observatory.

Colliding galaxies

One picture shows part of the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), a companion galaxy to the Milky Way. The 30 Doradus complex in the LMC is a region containing many supernova remnants following star explosions, as well as an extensive region where stars are being born.

A second colour exposure shows colliding galaxies, the so-called Hickson-16 group, which is 170 million light years from Earth.

"These first pictures are tremendously exciting," said Dr Martin Turner of the University of Leicester, which is playing a central role in the XMM project. "We can see the creation of new stars, from elements scattered through space by previous stellar explosions.

"This is the kind of observation we built the cameras for, and they are already fulfilling their promise."

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See also:
10 Dec 99 |  Sci/Tech
Ariane soars to success
13 Dec 99 |  Sci/Tech
XMM takes first snap
30 Nov 99 |  Sci/Tech
X-raying the violent Universe
10 Dec 99 |  Sci/Tech
Ready to scan the Universe

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