XRISM, a joint space mission led by JAXA, will use its Resolve instrument to study the universe’s extremes using spectroscopy. Its findings will complement those of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, offering a richer understanding of cosmic phenomena.
Scheduled to launch in just a few days (August 26 Japan local time), the upcoming XRISM (X-ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission, pronounced “crism”) spacecraft will study the universe’s hottest regions, largest structures, and objects with the strongest gravity.
Spectroscopy and Its Importance
“I think we all get excited for the beautiful images we get from missions like NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope,” Roberts said. “But after taking a deep dive into spectroscopy, I really appreciate the critical context it gives scientists about the story behind those pictures.”
In the following explainer, video producer Sophia Roberts from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center walks us through how understanding spectroscopy deepens our knowledge of the universe.
Watch to learn about spectroscopy, the dance between matter and light, and how NASA missions using it help scientists answer big questions about our universe. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
XRISM’s Resolve: An In-depth Look
XRISM’s microcalorimeter spectrometer, named Resolve, is a collaboration between JAXA and NASA. It will create spectra, measurements of light’s intensity over a range of energies, for X-rays from 400 to 12,000 electron volts. (For comparison, visible light energies range from about 2 to 3 electron volts.)
To do this, Resolve measures tiny temperature changes created when an X-ray hits its 6-by-6-pixel detector. To measure that minuscule increase and determine the X-ray’s energy, the detector needs to cool down to just a fraction of a degree above absolute zero. (This is around minus 460 °Fahrenheit / minus 270 °Celsius.) The instrument reaches its operating temperature after a multistage mechanical cooling process inside a refrigerator-sized container of liquid helium.
Scientific Applications and Collaborations
Resolve will help astronomers learn more about the composition and motion of extremely hot gas within clusters of galaxies, near-light-speed particle jets powered by black holes in active galaxies, and other cosmic mysteries.
The Webb telescope captures similar spectra, but for infrared light. Webb’s spectra have revealed the makeup of gas near active black holes and mapped the movement of this material toward or away from the viewer. Data from XRISM’s Resolve instrument will do the same at higher energies, helping paint a fuller picture of these objects.
XRISM is a collaborative mission between JAXA and NASA, with participation by ESA (European Space Agency). NASA’s contribution includes science participation from the Canadian Space Agency.