4 Calling birds, 3 French hens, 2 Turtle Doves and 37,000 seconds of XMM-Newton Time
Just in time for the holidays, we got a little early Christmas present in our inbox. Applying for telescope time can be a large part of an astronomer’s work, and because astronomers often apply for far more time than is available, many worthy proposals don’t make it. If you’ve been following the blog, you know that in the past we were successful in getting time on facilities like Hubble, WIYN and IRAM to work on discoveries made by you all. So we were very happy to receive an email from esa confirming that we were awarded 37,000 seconds (or, in X-ray astronomer lingo 37 ksec) on the XMM-Newton space telescope.
Artist impression of XMM-Newton in space (from esa)
The title of our accepted program is: “How fast can an AGN shut down? XMM-Newton observation of IC 2497“. It’s with the piercing X-ray eyes of XMM–Newton that we hope to better understand the mystery Voorwerp. Just like at your doctor’s, X-rays in space can be a great tool to diagnose what’s going, in this case a supermassive black hole. One of the Big Questions about the Voorwerp is whether the quasar in IC 2497 (the spiral galaxy next to it) has really shut down, or whether it’s just hidden (obscured) by lots of gas and dust around it. With the help of this X-ray observation, we will hopefully be able to tell the difference between these two scenarios. When supermassive black holes feed, they emit radiation at many wavelengths, but X-rays are the most reliable measure of just how much material they really are gobbling up. The interpretation isn’t necessarily straightforward, as even X-rays can be blocked if there’s enough material in the way, but in 37 ksec (or just over 10 hours) with XMM-Newton, we should be able to tell the difference and make another step towards understanding what the Voorwerp really tells us about astrophysics.
So when do we get the data? As with all observations, it might take a while. The next cycle of observations lasts from May 2009 to April 2010…
Update: A nice artist’s impression by Adrianus V from the forum :