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X-ray detection techniques in AHEAD2020 project

May 27, 2020

A European consortium made up of 38 partners from 16 countries, integrates actions to advance in the field of high energy.

Nebulae, stars, galaxies or planets are celestial objects that emit large amounts of energy, whose observation advances to space research and knowledge of universe. High energy astronomy, including X-ray, is responsible for observing and studying these astronomical sources in this spectrum band, for which scientists are using increasingly precise tools, such as those developed by a team from Instituto de Física de Cantabria (IFCA) within international AHEAD 2020's project.

Under the acronym "Integrated Activities for the High-Energy Astrophysics Domain", this initiative takes over from a previous line of research, funded under European Horizon 2020 (H2020). In both, objective is to integrate the efforts of different countries involved in a new era of high energy astrophysics, keeping R+D+i groups and observatories they use at forefront of science and technology. This is achieved, in particular, by developing tools based on artificial intelligence for the analysis of X-ray data.

A team led in Spain by CSIC researcher Maite Ceballos, and, in Cantabria, by her and UC professor Francisco Carrera, both from the IFCA, is working on two different project tasks. "On the one hand, we are leading one related to the analysis of data from high spectral resolution spectrographs, seeking to improve construction of the signal as opposed to what is achieved with traditional techniques”, Carrera explains. “The second line consists of applying algorithms for automatic determination of the "red shifts" of these sources, that is, to determine how far they are from us”.

This has a direct application on quality and accuracy of future observations, with both ground based and orbiting instruments. Of the latter, the XMM-Newton telescope, on whose projects IFCA scientists have also worked, is already a veteran - since 1999 - and construction of the Athena observatory, scheduled to be launched at the beginning of next decade, is underway. Technological developments on which AHEAD 2020 focuses will enable improved detectors, optical devices and analysis tools for benefit of present and future space missions.

A total of 38 partners from 16 European countries participate in the project, under general coordination of the Instituto Nazionale di Astrofisica (INAF) of Italy, in addition to 4 SMEs. The Spanish participation, in addition to the IFCA, includes Universidad de Alicante, Instituto de Ciencias Materiales de Aragón and Instituto de Barcelona, involving three work packages: one on training activities and use of infrastructures between centres; another on the dissemination of research; and a third on development of tools based on artificial intelligence for analysis of X-ray data.

Networking and creation of an interdisciplinary platform or community are essential in this initiative, which aims to promote better exploitation of results, as well as to strengthen performance and use of infrastructures. A total of 30 facilities for instrumental testing, data analysis and computational astrophysics, distributed throughout the European continent, are made available to researchers.

Video of the report from Universidad de Cantabria: 

AHEAD2020 website:

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