“Utterly Devastated” – Astronomers Blocked from X-ray Universe Due to Stuck Door

The X-Ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission (XRISM), a collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), was launched in September 2023. XRISM’s mission is to probe some of the most energetic phenomena in the universe using X-rays. The telescope has been performing well and has provided scientists with an abundance of data, including some unexpected discoveries.

However, there is a problem with the telescope’s main instrument, a soft X-ray spectrometer known as Resolve. An aperture door covering Resolve has not opened despite several attempts. This has created an interesting situation for mission specialists and X-ray astronomers. If the door remains closed, certain parts of the cosmos will remain inaccessible to the telescope. However, if attempts to open the door damage the spacecraft, it could jeopardize the mission entirely.

Currently, the plan is to collect science for the next 18 months before making another attempt to open the gate valve. In the meantime, the telescope is still producing valuable data at higher energy levels. XRISM has provided scientists with detailed X-ray spectra and high-quality data, even with the door closed.

The situation is particularly frustrating for scientists who are interested in studying X-rays from “galactic atmospheres.” Without the ability to see lower energy X-rays, a significant part of the X-ray universe remains locked away. Currently, there is no other X-ray telescope with the capability to look across “extended” objects at low energies with high resolution.

Even with these challenges, XRISM is still considered a significant advancement in the field of X-ray astronomy. However, the potential budget cuts to NASA’s Chandra mission, another X-ray space telescope, could leave the field without an important resource for modern astrophysics. Despite the uncertainty, scientists remain excited about the potential discoveries XRISM could still make.

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