Hard X-ray astronomy is a crucial field for understanding physical processes occurring in several celestial objects, characterized by extreme physical conditions and strong gravity regime, but still poorly explored. Current hard-X ray instrumentation suffers from a poor angular resolution, compared with other wavelengths, and insufficient continuum sensitivity to resolve hard X-ray spectra, especially above few hundreds keV. Laue lenses made with bent crystals represent a viable solution to overcome both limitations, providing good angular resolution ( better than 30 arcsec) combined with excellent sensitivity (orders of magnitude better than that achievable with the current non focusing instrumentation). Supported by the Italian Space Agency, we test a modular method for building Laue lenses. This consists in the realization of portions of Laue lenses that are successively tuned and aligned under the control of a gamma-ray source for focusing the radiation on the common Laue lens focal point. Each module, composed with few tens of crystals, can be realized with an accuracy better than 20 arcsecs with the goal of achieving an overall alignment better than 30 arcsec. In addition, we present a significant improvement in the realization of a large number of bent crystals with the required curvature.
The ASTENA mission, conceived within the AHEAD framework, consists of two coaligned instruments, a broad band Wide Field Monitor/Spectrometer WFM/S and a broad band Narrow Field Telescope (NFT). In the NFT a large geometric area Laue lens (3 m maximum diameter with a 20 m focal length) allows to focus the radiation of the 50 - 700 keV energy pass-band. Differently from other proposed Laue lenses in the past, the NFT is made of optimized thickness bent crystal tiles, made with Silicon (for the lower energy part of the lens pass-band) and Germanium (dedicated to the upper energy threshold). With these assumption we have optimized the NFT Field of View (FoV) to 3.5 arcmin with the angular resolution of 20”. The Laue lens is coupled with a high efficiency (>80% above 600 keV) focal plane position sensitive detector, with 3D spatial resolution of at least 300 µm in the (X,Y) plane and fine spectroscopic response (1% @511 keV) and with polarization sensitivity. In this SPIE contribution we will discuss the NFI geometry simulated with the MEGAlib toolkit and we will discuss its performances by simulating broad band and narrow energy typical sources, giving finally the instrument performances.
Within the AHEAD consortium a mission concept named ASTENA (Advanced Surveyor of Transient Events and Nuclear Astrophysics) is proposed to address the top-priority themes identified by the AHEAD Science Advisory Group: Gamma-Ray Bursts and Nuclear Astrophysics. GRBs are among the most intriguing phenomena of the Universe, which thanks to their vast luminosities can be used to probe the first billion years of cosmic history, i.e. the era of first stars and black-holes. In spite of great advancements in the GRB astronomy since the BeppoSAX discovery of afterglows, several issues concerning both the prompt emission and the afterglow are still open. Concerning the prompt emission, for example, the emission mechanism of the radiation and the energy dissipation site (internal shocks? external shocks? photosphere?) are far from being understood. What is required is an accurate determination of the photon spectrum from few keV up to tens of MeV, and importantly, a measurement of the polarization of the radiation. The emission of the afterglow has been deeply investigated with Swift in the energy band from 0.5 to 10 keV, showing that an understanding of the origin of the emission mechanism requires spectral information extending to much higher energies, as already suggested by a few studies at < 60 keV (e.g., Kouveliotou et al. 2013, ApJ 779, L1). Landmark progress on this issue therefore requires polarization capabilities and a passband extending well beyond 60 keV.
Concerning nuclear astrophysics, a fundamental issue concerns the origin of the 511 keV positron annihilation line discovered with INTEGRAL/SPI in the Galactic center. According to the INTEGRAL results the emission is diffuse, but the poor imaging capability of INTEGRAL (at the best with a resolution of 12 arcmin with ISGRI) does not allow one to establish whether what appears diffuse is indeed the superposition of the emission from point-like sources, such as micro-quasars. The important role played by micro-quasars as sources of positron annihilation line emission has also been established with INTEGRAL (Siegert et al. 2016, Nature 531, 341). Another open issue in nuclear astrophysics concerns the determination and understanding of the nuclear burning processes in Type-1a supernovae. This requires a study of the intensity and time behavior of the expected lines emitted by the heavy elements produced in supernova explosions. Instrument concept to address the IWG requirements.
With the above considerations in mind, we propose to perform a feasibility study of a configuration of two instruments:
a) a wide field monitor/spectrometer (WFM/S), with a passband from 1 keV to 20 MeV, made of a
suitable number of detection modules, each consisting of an array of long bars of scintillator with very small cross section, and readout from both sides with solid state thin detectors (e.g. Silicon Drift Detectors, SDD). One of the SDD is used as soft X-ray Position Sensitive Detector. A possible crystal material is CsI(Tl), but also other faster crystals such as LSO(Ce) or CeBr3 should be examined. The detector modules are coupled to a light coded mask, for obtaining a GRB localization accuracy of order of ~1 arcmin between 1 and 30/50 keV. The number of modules, equipped with collimators, should be sufficient to achieve the required sensitivity to GRBs. The order of magnitude of the total detection area is 18000 cm2. The modules are slightly misaligned with each other tin order o achieve a wide FOV (> 1 sr).
b) a narrow field telescope (NFT), made of a broad-band Laue lens (50 – 600/700 keV) of a 20 m focal length, based on the exploitation of bent crystals, like those under development in Ferrara (FOV= 3.5 arcmin, angular resolution ≈20”). The NFT is coupled to a high efficiency (>80% above 600 keV) focal plane position sensitive detector, with 3D spatial resolution of at least 300 µm in the (X,Y) plane, fine spectroscopic response (1% @511 keV) and with polarization sensitivity.
With the WFM/S, we expect to accurately determine the energy spectrum of GRB prompt emission in the broadest band ever achieved with a single instrument, to measure the gamma-ray polarization of, at least, the brightest GRBs and to search for electromagnetic counterparts of Gravitational Wave events. In addition, with adequate scintillator bars and fast electronics, the Lorentz invariance for the brightest events can be tested. With the NFT, which is >~100 times more sensitive at a few hundred keV than any other past or planned mission, we can carry out for the first time a long-sought study of the afterglow spectrum of GRBs up to high energies (600/700 keV), including its polarization level. We can also establish, thanks to its high angular resolution (about 20”), whether the 511 keV positron annihilation line is due to the superposition of emission from point-like sources. In addition, we can address many Legacy Science topics mentioned in the Call, such as the origin of the high energy emission from magnetars, the first determination of the spectrum of blazars out to z~8 in between the two Synchrotron and Compton bumps, the determination of the sources that give rise to the gamma-ray diffuse background. For example, one could determine the high-energy cutoff from spectra of relatively bright AGN and study how this depends on the physics of the accretion (e.g. BH mass, Eddington ratio). We emphasize that the unprecedented sensitivity of the NFT and the combination with the WFM/S implies a large discovery space of this configuration. Moreover, such an instrument concept, thanks to the lightweight of the Laue lens and compactness of the wide field instrument, is expected to be within the limits imposed by an ESA Medium Size Mission.
XIPE, the X-ray Imaging Polarimetry Explorer, is a mission dedicated to X-ray Astronomy. At the time of
writing XIPE is in a competitive phase A as fourth medium size mission of ESA (M4). It promises to reopen the
polarimetry window in high energy Astrophysics after more than 4 decades thanks to a detector that efficiently
exploits the photoelectric effect and to X-ray optics with large effective area. XIPE uniqueness is time-spectrally-spatially-
resolved X-ray polarimetry as a breakthrough in high energy astrophysics and fundamental physics.
Indeed the payload consists of three Gas Pixel Detectors at the focus of three X-ray optics with a total effective
area larger than one XMM mirror but with a low weight. The payload is compatible with the fairing of the Vega
launcher. XIPE is designed as an observatory for X-ray astronomers with 75 % of the time dedicated to a Guest
Observer competitive program and it is organized as a consortium across Europe with main contributions from
Italy, Germany, Spain, United Kingdom, Poland, Sweden.
The Large Observatory For x-ray Timing (LOFT) is a mission concept which was proposed to ESA as M3 and M4 candidate in the framework of the Cosmic Vision 2015-2025 program. Thanks to the unprecedented combination of effective area and spectral resolution of its main instrument and the uniquely large field of view of its wide field monitor, LOFT will be able to study the behaviour of matter in extreme conditions such as the strong gravitational field in the innermost regions close to black holes and neutron stars and the supra-nuclear densities in the interiors of neutron stars. The science payload is based on a Large Area Detector (LAD, >8m2 effective area, 2-30 keV, 240 eV spectral resolution, 1 degree collimated field of view) and a Wide Field Monitor (WFM, 2-50 keV, 4 steradian field of view, 1 arcmin source location accuracy, 300 eV spectral resolution). The WFM is equipped with an on-board system for bright events (e.g., GRB) localization. The trigger time and position of these events are broadcast to the ground within 30 s from discovery. In this paper we present the current technical and programmatic status of the mission.
The Large Observatory For x-ray Timing (LOFT) was studied within ESA M3 Cosmic Vision framework and participated in the final downselection for a launch slot in 2022-2024. Thanks to the unprecedented combination of effective area and spectral resolution of its main instrument, LOFT will study the behaviour of matter under extreme conditions, such as the strong gravitational field in the innermost regions of accretion flows close to black holes and neutron stars, and the supranuclear densities in the interior of neutron stars. The science payload is based on a Large Area Detector (LAD, 10 m2 effective area, 2-30 keV, 240 eV spectral resolution, 1° collimated field of view) and a Wide Field Monitor (WFM, 2-50 keV, 4 steradian field of view, 1 arcmin source location accuracy, 300 eV spectral resolution). The WFM is equipped with an on-board system for bright events (e.g. GRB) localization. The trigger time and position of these events are broadcast to the ground within 30 s from discovery. In this paper we present the status of the mission at the end of its Phase A study.
This paper summarizes the development of a successful project, LAUE, supported by the Italian Space Agency
(ASI) and devoted to the development of long foca length (up to 100—m) Laue lenses for hard X–/soft gamma–
ray astronomy (80-600 keV). The apparatus is ready and the assembling of a prototype lens petal is ongoing.
The great achievement of this project is the use of bent crystals. From measurements obtained on single crystals
and from simulations, we have estimated the expected Point Spread Function and thus the sensitivity of a lens
made of petals. The expected sensitivity is a few ×10−8 photons cm−2 s−1 keV−1). We discuss a number of open astrophysical questions that can settled with such an instrument aboard a free-flying satellite.
The LOFT mission concept is one of four candidates selected by ESA for the M3 launch opportunity as Medium Size missions of the Cosmic Vision programme. The launch window is currently planned for between 2022 and 2024. LOFT is designed to exploit the diagnostics of rapid X-ray flux and spectral variability that directly probe the motion of matter down to distances very close to black holes and neutron stars, as well as the physical state of ultradense matter. These primary science goals will be addressed by a payload composed of a Large Area Detector (LAD) and a Wide Field Monitor (WFM). The LAD is a collimated (<1 degree field of view) experiment operating in the energy range 2-50 keV, with a 10 m2 peak effective area and an energy resolution of 260 eV at 6 keV. The WFM will operate in the same energy range as the LAD, enabling simultaneous monitoring of a few-steradian wide field of view, with an angular resolution of <5 arcmin. The LAD and WFM experiments will allow us to investigate variability from submillisecond QPO’s to yearlong transient outbursts. In this paper we report the current status of the project.
We describe the design and construction of a new novel optical polarimeter (RINGO2) for the Liverpool Telescope.
The instrument is designed for rapid (< 3 minute) followup observations of Gamma Ray Bursts in order to
measure the early time polarization and time evolution on timescales of ~ 1 - 10000 seconds. By using a fast
rotating Polaroid whose rotation is synchronized to control the readout of an electron multiplying CCD eight
times per revolution, we can rebin our data in the time domain after acquisition with little noise penalty, thereby
allowing us to explore the polarization evolution of these rapidly variable objects for the first time.
We report on new results on the development activity of broad band Laue lenses for hard X-/gamma-ray astronomy
(70/100-600 keV). After the development of a first prototype, whose performance was presented at the
SPIE conference on Astronomical Telescopes held last year in Marseille (Frontera et al. 2008), we have improved
the lens assembling technology. We present the the development status of the new lens prototype that is on the
way to be assembled.
We are exploiting the Swift X-ray Telescope (XRT) deepest GRB follow-up observations to study the cosmic
X-Ray Background (XRB) population in the 0.2-10 keV energy band. We present some preliminary results of a
serendipitous survey performed on 221 fields observed with exposure longer than 10 ks. We show that the XRT is
a profitable instrument for surveys and that it is particularly suitable for the search and observation of extended
objects like clusters of galaxies. We used the brightest serendipitous sources and the longest observations to test
the XRT optics performance and the background characteristics all over the field of view, in different energy
bands during the first 2.5 years of fully operational mission.
We describe the design and construction of a novel optical ring-polarimeter (RINGO) for the Liverpool Telescope. The instrument is designed for rapid (< 5 minutes) followup observations of Gamma Ray Bursts in order to measure the early time polarization and its evolution for the first time. Sensitivity calculations and data reduction procedures are described, and the results of on-sky commissioning presented. The instrument is now on the telescope and in routine use during GRB followup.
The Italian-Dutch satellite for x-ray astronomy BeppoSAX is successfully operating on a 600 km equatorial orbit since May 1996. We present here the in-flight performances of the gamma ray burst monitor experiment during its first year of operation. The GRBM is the secondary function of the four CsI(Na) slabs primarily operating as an active anticoincidence of the PDS hard x-ray experiment. It has a geometric area of about 400 cm2 but, due to its location in the core of the satellite its effective area is dependent on the energy and direction of the impinging photons. A dedicated electronics allows to trigger on cosmic gamma-ray bursts. When the trigger condition is satisfied the light curve of the event is recorded from 8 s before to 98 s after the trigger time, with a maximum time resolution of 0.48 ms, in an energy band of 40 - 700 keV. As an instrument housekeeping the 1 s event ratemeter of the same detectors in the same energy band is stored regardless the trigger condition, allowing for an off- line detection of non-triggered events. Finally, the onboard software collects the event count rate that is used as anticoincidence, i.e. the events above a given energy threshold, typically kept at 100 keV. The flight-data screening is in progress, in order to extract real gamma ray bursts from the many sources of background. Already many results have been obtained, as those GRBs detected simultaneously with the wide field cameras oinboard BeppoSAX itself.