China is preparing to launch its new ‘lobster eye’ x-ray telescope later this year.
Called the ‘Einstein Probe’, it is hoped the astronomical satellite may provide valuable insight into some of the universe’s most mysterious phenomena, including supernovas and black holes.
Speaking at China’s 35th National Symposium on Space Exploration, lead researcher and principal investigator of the Einstein Probe project, Yuan Weimin, said the development of the lobster eye telescope had entered its final stages.
The Einstein Probe could shed light on explosive, high energy and transient sources such as the star-eating supermassive black holes that have both intrigued and terrified the scientific community for decades, Yuan told state media news agency, China Daily.
According to Yuan, these little-understood cosmic phenomena are crucial to improving our knowledge of our galaxy and its fate.
The telescope’s sophisticated lens was inspired by the intricate makeup of a lobster’s visual system, which allows light in from all directions via hundreds of hollow tubes within the eye that converge at the retina, giving the marine crustacean a near-unmatched field of view.
Technicians at X-ray Imaging Laboratories of the National Astronomical Observatories of China have been working on the Einstein Probe since 2010, but have remained tight-lipped on details until it announced the probe’s testing debut in December 2022, according to Interesting Engineering.
The Einstein Probe will be capable of accurately observing the soft x-ray band, which lies between the electromagnetic and ultraviolet wavelengths, according to Yuan.
Mapping the known universe and the positions of its many transient sources is among the probe’s chief tasks as well as identifying x-ray pulses that typically accompany significant gravitational objects like neutron stars and black holes.
The Einstein Probe and lobster eye lens technology will revolutionise how scientists observe the ‘x-ray sky’, said Head of Astrophysics at the University of Leicester’s School of Physics and Astronomy, Paul O’Brien, adding that the module’s early testing pointed towards a successful mission.
Key technologies for the project were test-validated on the Lobster Eye Imager for Astronomy (LEIA), a pathfinder satellite for the Einstein Probe launched in late 2022.
LEIA’s initial snapshots were the first ever captured on a large-field x-ray telescope, according to Chinese state media.
The project involved collaboration with several international academic institutions, including the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Germany and the French Space Agency, as per to China Daily.