Exploring the transient Universe

Posted by ap507 at May 17, 2018 10:42 AM |
University of Leicester scientist involved in mission being considered by ESA

Issued by University of Leicester on 17 May 2018

Illustrations of the Theseus spacecraft and the mission in context available here: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/sdxsz89cth9cmec/AAAg1Ck0Q9r5OM1EYP-zRVW6a?dl=0

A novel mission - to understand how the Universe began and what it is made of – involves a University of Leicester scientist as the UK instrument lead.

The project, called Theseus, is now to be considered for ESA’s fifth medium class mission in its Cosmic Vision science programme, with a planned launch date in 2032.

Theseus is the Transient High Energy Sky and Early Universe Surveyor and is one of three new mission concepts - selected from 25 proposals put forward by the scientific community - that will be studied in parallel before a final decision is expected in 2021.

Theseus will monitor transient events in the high-energy Universe across the whole sky and over the entirety of cosmic history. In particular, it promises to make a complete census of gamma-ray bursts from the Universe’s first billion years, to help shed light on the life cycle of the first stars.

Astronomers know that there are transient high-energy sources which appear at random on the sky. These sources occur throughout the Universe and are bright enough to see right back to the dawn of time. Some of them also appear to be related to the recently discovered gravitational waves. By monitoring the sky continuously with sensitive instruments, Theseus will vastly increase the number of transient sources known and determine their properties.

Professor Paul O’Brien, from the University of Leicester, said: “Theseus will reveal the origin of high-energy transient sources over the entirety of cosmic history. It will probe the early Universe to determine when the first stars were born and probe the nearby Universe to locate the sources of gravitational waves.”

Theseus can locate sources on the sky, automatically point at them and obtain data over a large wavelength range to determine their properties. Using real-time data links, the information will be immediately communicated to astronomers around the world. Theseus will also be a powerful space observatory which can be pointed on demand to study a wide variety of sources, including galaxies, stars, massive black holes and objects in the solar system. It will also produce a continually updated map of the sky in X-rays and gamma-rays.

Carrying a unique combination of instruments on a rapid response spacecraft, Theseus will provide an unprecedented combination of:

  • wide and deep sky monitoring in a broad energy band (0.3keV -20 MeV);
  • focusing capabilities in the soft X-ray band providing very large sky coverage and high angular resolution
  • on board near-IR capabilities for immediate transient source identification and redshift determination

The X-ray instrument team is led from the University of Leicester, UK, the gamma-ray instrument is led from INAF, Italy and the IR telescope is led from CEA, France. The mission is led by Dr Lorenzo Amati from INAF

Dr Amati said: “Besides the investigation of the early Universe, Theseus would be an unprecedentedly powerful machine for the detection, accurate location and distance determination of most classes of Gamma-ray Bursts and other transient sources and phenomena, thus providing a substantial contribution to the newly born fields of multi-messenger astrophysics and time-domain astronomy. Theseus will have a beautiful synergy with the large observing facilities of the future, like E-ELT, TMT, SKA, CTA, ATHENA, in the electromagnetic domain, as well as with next-generation gravitational-waves and neutrino detectors, thus enhancing importantly their scientific return."

The Theseus mission was proposed to ESA in 2016 and is under study as the fifth medium-sized mission (M5) in ESA’s ‘Cosmic Vision’ programme. Theseus has been selected along with two other missions for study out of an original 25 proposals.

The final decision on which mission to select for launch as M5 will be taken in 2021.


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