Athena, the Advanced Telescope for High Energy Astrophysics, is the next flagship X-ray observatory, planned for launch by the European Space Agency (ESA) in the early 2030s with a significant contribution from NASA.

Athena will offer an order of magnitude greater collecting area over the present generation of X-ray telescopes. Athena will carry an instrument called the X-IFU, a new type of high-resolution X-ray spectrometer, called a microcalorimeter array, which is able to precisely measure the energies of incoming X-rays and accurately characterize emission and absorption from different chemical elements. Alongside the X-IFU will be the Wide Field Imager (WFI), providing sensitive X-ray imaging and spectroscopy over a wide field of view

The mission of Athena is to explore the Hot and Energetic Universe. Athena will:

  • Perform a complete census of black hole growth in the Universe, to understand when the first supermassive black holes formed and how they governed the growth of galaxies.
  • Probe, in detail, the processes happening just outside the event horizons of black holes to power some of the most luminous objects in our Universe; active galactic nuclei and AGN
  • Determine how and when the large-scale structures of hot gas, in particular clusters of galaxies, formed in the Universe and trace their evolution

At KIPAC, we are contributing to the Athena mission on a number of levels. KIPAC scientists are developing the scientific cases for the observatory and planning some of the observations, surveys and experiments that it will perform. New models and data analysis techniques being developed at KIPAC will be key to interpreting the detailed observations that Athena will make.

We are involved in the development of the instruments that will fly on Athena. As part of the Athena WFI Instrument Consortium, the XOC group are developing the ASICs (application-specific integrated circuits) that will read the data out of the WFI detectors and enable them to operate at high frame rates, and designing novel machine learning algorithms to detect cosmic rays interacting with the detector to reduce the background signal that contaminates measurements. KIPAC scientists are also working as part of the X-IFU Consortium to develop the technology that will allow signals to be read out of microcalorimeter arrays at high speed.