A&A press release: A new X-ray spectroscopic tool for probing the interstellar [..] (31 March 2009)

A&A press release

Released on March 31th, 2009

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A new X-ray spectroscopic tool for probing the interstellar medium

Based on the article:

“Physical properties of amorphous solid interstellar material from X-ray absorption spectroscopy of Scorpius X-1”, by C.P. de Vries and E. Costantini

To be published in Astronomy & Astrophysics, 2009

 


Astronomy & Astrophysics is publishing the first clear detection of signatures long sought in the spectra of X-ray astronomical sources, the so-called EXAFS signatures, standing for “Extended X-ray Absorption Fine Structure”. EXAFS is a powerful tool for studying the structure of grains in the interstellar medium (ISM). It gives a more detailed picture of the composition and structure of amorphous grains in the ISM.

Astronomy & Astrophysics
is publishing the first clear detection of signatures long sought in the spectra of X-ray astronomical sources. These signatures, the so-called EXAFS standing for “Extended X-ray Absorption Fine Structure”, were observed with an X-ray spectroscopic technique that is common in materials sciences. Up to now, EXAFS studies of astronomical sources have been unsuccessful because of the weak X-ray signals received from celestial objects. Using the Reflection Grating Spectrometer (RGS) onboard the XMM-Newton satellite, Dutch astronomers C.P. de Vries and E. Costantini have obtained high-quality X-ray spectra of Scorpius X-1, one of the brightest X-ray sources in the sky, located about 2800 parsecs from the Earth. For the first time, they have found clear evidence of an EXAFS signature coming from the dust seen toward a celestial source.

EXAFS is a powerful tool for studying the structure of grains in the interstellar medium (ISM). It is based on the phenomenon that X-ray photons can eject electrons from atoms inside solid particles, which in turn can be backscattered onto the emitting atom by atoms in their immediate neighborhood. This causes characteristic sinusoidal absorption features in the X-ray spectrum of a distant source that depend on the structure of the absorbing solid material.

Another, perhaps better known, technique of probing ISM dust, infrared spectroscopy, can also be used to study crystalline dust. However, EXAFS has a major advantage over infrared spectroscopy, in that it can probe the solid matter along the line-of-sight at the level of the atomic structure, even for irregular amorphous materials. Infrared spectroscopy, by comparison, provides information at the mineralogical level. As a result, using EXAFS, astronomers can obtain a very detailed sampling of the composition and atomic structure of the dust along the line-of-sight. EXAFS gives a more detailed picture of the chemical composition and atomic structure of amorphous grains than is possible with infrared spectroscopy.

Figure 1
Fig. 1 -  Artist impression of X-rays from a far-away source (top right) intercepted by an interstellar dust particle (yellow square), in which emittance and absorption of electrons between neighboring atoms causes a sinusoidal behavior in the observed X-ray spectrum (lower left). Top left shows a drawing of the XMM satellite.



[1] The team includes C.P. de Vries (SRON, Utrecht, Netherlands) and E. Costantini (SRON/Utrecht Univ. Netherlands).


Physical properties of amorphous solid interstellar material from X-ray absorption spectroscopy of Scorpius X-1, by C.P. de Vries and E. Costantini.

To be published in Astronomy & Astrophysics, 2009. Full article available in PDF format

A Dutch press release from SRON is available at http://www.sron.nl

Contacts:

  • Science:

Dr. Cor de Vries
SRON
Sorbonnelaan 2
3584 CA Utrecht, Netherlands
Email: c.p.de.vries (at) sron.nl
Phone: + (31) 30 253 8569

  • Press office:

Dr. Jennifer Martin
Journal Astronomy & Astrophysics
61, avenue de l'Observatoire
75014 Paris, France
Email: aanda.paris (at) obspm.fr
Phone: +33 1 43 29 05 41

© Astronomy & Astrophysics 2009