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XMM-Newton Education and Public Outreach
Sonoma State University Education and Public Outreach Goddard Space Flight Center Sonoma State University Education and Public Outreach

The XMM-Newton Mission

XMM-Newton is an X-ray satellite launched into Earth orbit on December 10, 1999 by the European Space Agency (ESA). XMM-Newton is actually a fully-functioning observatory, carrying three very advanced X-ray telescopes. They each contain 58 high-precision concentric mirrors, nested to offer the largest collecting area possible to catch X-rays. Unlike many other telescopes, which only make images of the objects they observe, XMM-Newton takes both images and spectra. This means it can measure the energy of the X-rays emitted by an astronomical object, which allows scientists to determine many of its physical characteristics.

XMM-Newton was initially called just "XMM", which stands for "X-ray Multi-Mirror" due to the design of the mirrors. To honor one of the world's most famous scientists, ESA attached the name of Isaac Newton to the XMM mission.

XMM-Newton can obtain spectra of far fainter objects than any previous spectroscopic X-ray mission because its mirrors have more collection area and are smoother than on any previous mission. The detectors onboard XMM-Newton are also much more sensitive, allowing fainter objects to be observed. A third advantage is that it has an unusual orbit that takes it out to nearly one third of the distance to the Moon. This highly elliptical orbit means that XMM-Newton can make long, uninterrupted observations, giving it the time it needs to see fainter astronomical objects.

Although managed and operated by the European Space Agency (see ESA's XMM-Newton outreach site), XMM-Newton has several American components:

  1. Columbia University Astrophysics laboratory has been working with both the software and the hardware of the Reflection Grating Spectrometer, the instrument which will give astronomers the most precise spectral information.
  2. University of California - Santa Barbara is in charge of the on-board software for the UV/optical monitor.
  3. GSFC is the coordinator of the US effort and participation in XMM-Newton. GSFC also manages the Guest Observer Facility.


If you have any questions concerning XMM-Newton send e-mail to xmmhelp@athena.gsfc.nasa.gov.

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