Astronomers are always on the hunt for bright lights flaring up in the dark reaches of space, whether they are titanic stellar explosions or two black holes catastrophically merging into one. With this in mind, researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Germany have released a new all-sky survey.
As revealed in the study in Astronomy and Astrophysics, this is the most comprehensive map of bright, deep space objects ever created. This incredible piece of cosmic cartography is a follow-up to the first tranche of data gathered by the ROSAT X-ray satellite between 1990 and 1991, which catalogued X-ray emissions being jettisoned by supernovae, black holes, neutron stars, comets and any other particularly energetic celestial objects.
This second catalogue contains the X-ray emissions of over 135,000 objects, although some of these may prove to be erroneous detections. At the most conservative estimates, the researchers working with the data say that there are at least 71,000 X-ray-emitting objects within this new, relatively high-resolution survey. Whether it’s a pulsar or a hypernova, this survey is likely to have picked it up.
Additionally, the team are also working out all the positions of the sources of the faintest, dimmest objects in the night sky – so even the “quietest” deep space objects haven’t escaped the eagle-eyed detectors on ROSAT.
The Crab Nebula was generated by a supernova, the type of explosion picked up by ROSAT's detectors. NASA/ESA/Arizona State University
When you look up at night and peer at the stars, you are only seeing a snapshot of the cosmos. In reality, it is gigantic beyond almost all understanding. As the late Douglas Adams once so gloriously surmised: “Space is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist, but that's just peanuts to space.”
With this in mind, the European Space Agency’s Planck spacecraft has been doing its best to image this vast stellar ocean. After processing 4 years’ worth of data, looking at the sky in nine different frequencies, it produced a remarkable map in 2014 revealing the most precise images of the universe as it looked 380,000 years after the Big Bang.
The Planck spacecraft was designed to take the baby photographs of the universe; the ROSAT satellite’s mission, on the other hand, was to look for all the brightest objects in the universe as we see it today. As both endeavors reveal, the deep reaches of space, from both the beginning of time right up to the present, are as vibrant and fiery as we have always suspected.