Asked by Matt Range
A space observatory that’s yet to be launched by the European Space Agency (ESA), ATHENA (Advanced Telescope for High ENergy Astrophysics) will observe the hot and energetic universe in X-rays. The spacecraft will be 100 times more sensitive than our best X-ray telescopes to date – the Chandra X-ray Observatory and XMM-Newton.
It’s hoped that the mission will transform our understanding of two major questions in astrophysics: how ordinary matter assembles into large structures such as galaxies and how black holes grow and shape the cosmos.
When the mission launches during the 2020s, it will be lifted to Lagrange Point 2 – a stable point in space on the night side of Earth and beyond our planet’s orbit, which possesses good sky visibility – on board an Ariane 5 rocket. In orbit, ATHENA will perform continuous observations of up to 300 celestial point targets, lasting anywhere from 30 minutes to over 11 days.