Incredible X-Ray Map of the Universe Like You've Never Seen It Before

Astronomers have created a spectacular map of the universe that shows the cosmos as it would look if you could only see in X-rays.

The image was put together using data collected by the eROSITA X-ray telescope aboard the joint Russian-German space observatory Spektr-RG (SRG) over the course of 182 days, completing its first full sweep of the sky.

The map contains more than one million objects—about double the number of X-ray sources identified in all previous telescope surveys combined.

"This all-sky image completely changes the way we look at the energetic universe," Peter Predehl, the Principal Investigator of eROSITA at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics (MPE), said in a statement. "We see such a wealth of detail—the beauty of the images is really stunning."

Many astronomical objects emit X-rays—a form of high-energy electromagnetic radiation—but the map produced by eROSITA looks significantly different to ones created by optical or radio telescopes.

Most of the X-ray sources in the map are active galactic nuclei, gigantic black holes that are pulling in surrounding materials and vast galaxy clusters. Many of these have never been identified before.

Also visible in the image is the structure of the hot gas within the Milky Way, as well as the remnants of supernovae explosions in our galaxy and others that are nearby, such as the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds.

Furthermore, the survey reveals several types of rare and exotic phenomena, including merging neutron stars—the incredibly dense remnants of massive stars—and stars being swallowed by black holes, all of which produce X-rays.

"We were all eagerly awaiting the first all-sky map from eROSITA," Mara Salvato, a scientist from MPE who work with the eROSITA data, said in a statement. "Large sky areas have already been covered at many other wavelengths, and now we have the X-ray data to match. We need these other surveys to identify the X-ray sources and understand their nature."

universe, eROSITA X-ray telescope
The universe as seen with the eROSITA X-ray telescope. Jeremy Sanders, Hermann Brunner and the eSASS team MPE); Eugene Churazov, Marat Gilfanov (on behalf of IKI

According to the researchers, detailed X-ray surveys like this can help us to better understand the expansion of the universe and a mysterious force known as dark energy that is causing an acceleration in this expansion. Over the next, three-and-a-half years, eROSITA will continue surveying the sky, producing seven more similar maps.

"With a million sources in just six months, eROSITA has already revolutionized X-ray astronomy, but this is just a taste of what's to come," Kirpal Nandra, head of the high-energy astrophysics group at MPE, said in a statement.

"This combination of sky area and depth is transformational. We are already sampling a cosmological volume of the hot Universe much larger than has been possible before. Over the next few years, we'll be able to probe even further, out to where the first giant cosmic structures and supermassive black holes were forming."