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Scientific synergies between the Athena observatory and the SKA telescope to be explored

The SKA-Athena Synergy Team (SAST) is working to identify and develop potential synergies between the SKA and the Athena X-ray observatory.

SKA Organisation HQ, Friday 21 October – ESA’s Advanced Telescope for High ENergy Astrophysics (Athena) and the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) will be key ingredients of the battery of next generation astronomical observatories in the late 2020s. These facilities will dominate the X-ray and radio windows respectively. Athena is set to study the hot and energetic Universe, specifically the assembly and evolution of hot baryons in large-scale structures and the influence of accretion into supermassive black holes on shaping galaxies. The SKA will also address a broad range of exciting science, from the observation of the very first stars and galaxies to the study of gravitational waves using pulsars and black holes, or the search for signatures of life in the galaxy.

The Athena Science Study Team (ASST) and the SKA Organisation have agreed to undertake an exercise to identify and develop potential synergies between both large observatories. The Athena and SKA science objectives have areas in common, and combining data from the two facilities will result in a very exciting scientific added value. Themes where strong potential synergies have been preliminarily identified include galaxy clusters, AGN feedback, obscured AGN and transient phenomena.

A SKA-Athena Synergy Team (SAST) has been appointed to explore and develop all foreseeable scientific synergies and, together with community experts, will produce the SKA-Athena Synergy White Paper. Four international leading figures, covering the relevant scientific areas and both wavelength domains, conform the SAST: Rossella Cassano (INAF/IRA, Chair), Chiara Ferrari (OCA), Rob Fender (Oxford) and Andrea Merloni (MPE). The SAST has kicked-off its activities on 27th September 2016.

Community input will be invited through a dedicated Workshop organised by the SAST and hosted by the SKA Organisation headquarters in Jodrell Bank, UK during the first half of 2017.  A list of specific topics to be covered in that Workshop will be issued by the SAST in the autumn of 2016, together with an open call for scientists willing to come to the Workshop and provide input for the SKA-Athena Synergy White Paper.

After the Synergy Workshop, the SAST will prepare the SKA-Athena Synergy White Paper, which will be delivered to ESA’s ASST and the SKA Organisation around September 2017 and subsequently made public.  “Athenas science output will be greatly enhanced when put together with observations from other large facilities in the late 2020s like SKA”, said Xavier Barcons, from ESA’s Athena Science Study Team. “Although it is often said that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, this adage will certainly apply to the collaborative use of the Athena and SKA Observatories”, said Robert Braun, the SKA Science Director, “since the combination of these two extreme ends of the electromagnetic spectrum provides powerful astrophysical constraints.

The SKA-Athena Synergy exercise is supported by the Athena Community Office, the SKA Organisation, the Max-Planck Institut für Extraterrestriche Physik and the European Space Agency.

About the SKA

The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project is an international effort to build the world’s largest radio telescope, led by SKA Organisation based at the Jodrell Bank Observatory near Manchester. The SKA will conduct transformational science to improve our understanding of the Universe and the laws of fundamental physics, monitoring the sky in unprecedented detail and mapping it hundreds of times faster than any current facility.

The SKA is not a single telescope, but a collection of telescopes or instruments, called an array, to be spread over long distances. The SKA is to be constructed in two phases: Phase 1 (called SKA1) in South Africa and Australia; Phase 2 (called SKA2) expanding into other African countries, with the component in Australia also being expanded.

Already supported by 10 member countries – Australia, Canada, China, India, Italy, New Zealand, South Africa, Sweden, The Netherlands and the United Kingdom – SKA Organisation has brought together some of the world’s finest scientists, engineers and policy makers and more than 100 companies and research institutions across 20 countries in the design and development of the telescope. Construction of the SKA is set to start in 2018, with early science observations in 2020.

About Athena

Athena (Advanced Telescope for High Energy Astrophysics) is the X-ray observatory mission selected by ESA, within its Cosmic Vision 2015-2025 programme, to address The Hot and Energetic Universe scientific theme. It is the second L(large)-class mission within that programme and is due for launch in 2028.

Athena will be a transformational tool for astronomers. Its core science seeks to address the key questions of how gas structures in the Universe form and evolve, and how black holes grow and shape the Universe. Beyond that, as an observatory, Athena will reveal new insight into all astronomical environments where high-energy processes take place, from Solar System to the edge of the Universe.

The Athena observatory consists of a single X-ray telescope with a fixed 12 m focal length, based on ESA’s Silicon Pore Optics (SPO) technology. The telescope focuses X-ray photons onto one of two instruments, which can be put in and out of the focal plane using a movable instrument platform or a movable mirror assembly. One instrument, the X-ray Integral Field Unit (X-IFU), will provide spatially-resolved high resolution spectroscopy. The other instrument, WFI will provide imaging over a wide field, simultaneously with spectrally and time-resolved photon counting.

Athena is currently supported by a growing worldwide community of more than 800 scientists gathering most of the critical scientific and technical knowledge needed to bring it to success.


SKA Organisation
William Garnier, Director of Communications

Athena Community Office
Pilar Monterde, Communication & Outreach support