‘X-shooter’ to shed new light on gamma-ray bursts

May 26th, 2009 - 2:25 pm ICT by ANI  

Munich, May 26 (ANI): ESO’s (European Southern Observatory’s) Very Large Telescope has been equipped with an instrument called a X-shooter, which can record the entire spectrum of a celestial object in one shot with high sensitivity, and will be particularly useful for the study of distant exploding objects called gamma-ray bursts.

“X-shooter offers a capability that is unique among astronomical instruments installed at large telescopes,” said Sandro D’Odorico, who coordinated the Europe-wide consortium of scientists and engineers that built this remarkable instrument.

“Until now, different instruments at different telescopes and multiple observations were needed to cover this kind of wavelength range, making it very difficult to compare data, which, even though from the same object, could have been taken at different times and under different sky conditions,” she added.

X-shooter collects the full spectrum from the ultraviolet (300 nm) to the near-infrared (2400 nm) in parallel, capturing up to half of all the light from an object that passes through the atmosphere and the various elements of the telescope.

“All in all, X-shooter can save us a factor of three or more in terms of precious telescope time and opens a new window of opportunity for the study of many, still poorly understood, celestial sources,” said D’Odorico.

The name of the 2.5-ton instrument was chosen to stress its capacity to capture data highly efficiently from a source whose nature and energy distribution are not known in advance of the observation.

This property is particularly crucial in the study of gamma-ray bursts, the most energetic explosions known to occur in the Universe.

Until now, a rough estimate of the distance of the target was needed, so as to know which instrument to use for a detailed study.

Thanks to X-shooter, astronomers won’t have to go through this first observing step.

This is particularly relevant for gamma-ray bursts, which fade away very quickly and where being fast is the key to understanding the nature of these elusive cosmic sources.

“I am very confident that X-shooter will discover the most distant gamma-ray bursts in the Universe, or in other words, the first objects that formed in the young Universe,” said Francois Hammer, who leads the French efforts in X-shooter. (ANI)

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