Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics


XMM-Newton (X-ray Multi-Mirror Mission) was at the time of launch the largest scientific satellite of the European Space Agency (ESA). It is the second of ESA's four “cornerstone” missions defined in the Horizon 2000 Programme. Its telescope mirrors were amongst the most powerful ever developed in the world, and with its sensitive cameras it sees much more than any previous X-ray satellite. Until 2002 XMM-Newton was the most massive satellite that was ever built and launched by Europeans. By now the record was beaten by another ESA-Satellite INTEGRAL, which was started in 2002 and adds the γ-ray range to the observations of XMM-Newton.

The satellite is still in orbit and stays operational prospectively until at least the end of 2018.

Launch: December 10th, 1999 (10th anniversary 2009).

Energy Range:

  • European Photon Imaging Camera (EPIC): 0.15 - 15 keV
  • Reflection Grating Spectrometer (RGS): 0.35 - 2.5 keV
  • Optical Monitor (OM): 180 - 600 nm

Scientific goal: Imaging of cosmic X-ray sources with high sensitivity and high spectral resolution.


There are two telescopes on XMM-Newton:

  1. Three Wolter type-1 X-ray telescopes with different detectors in their foci.
  2. 30-cm optical/UV telescope with a microchannel-plate pre-amplified CCD detector in its focal plane simultaneous access to X-ray and optical/UV.

Scientific Instruments

The scientific instruments on XMM-Newton are:

  1. European Photon Imaging Camera (EPIC): 3 CCD cameras for X-ray Imaging, moderate resolution spectroscopy and X-ray photometry. 2 of them are MOS cameras and one pn.
  2. Reflection Grating Spectrometer (RGS): 2 spectrometers for high-resolution X-ray spectroscopy and spectro-photometry.
  3. Optical Monitor (OM): for optical/UV imaging and grism spectroscopy

The control and readout electronics for the CCD-pn camera was developed at our institute. Due to the high radiation exposure in the orbit only slower radiation hard processors could be used. That is why a so called ASIC was developed. It is a special module, which is able to provide the required processing power. The CCD-array gets read out completely every 70 ms, so that in the end more than two million pixels per second have to be processed.

Characteristics of XMM-Newton

Some characteristic featurs of XMM-Newton are:

  • Simultaneous operation of all science instruments
  • High sensitivity
  • Good angular resolution
  • High spectral resolution
  • Simultaneous optical/UV observations
  • Long and continuous target visibility

More basic characteristic values for the different instruments can be seen in table 1.

Table 1: Basic characteristics of XMM-Newton.
Instrument EPIC MOS EPIC pn RGS OM
Bandpass 0.15-12 keV 0.15-15 keV 0.35-2.5 keV 180-600 nm
Orbital target vis. 5-135 ks 5-135 ks 5-135 ks 5-145 ks
Sensitivity ~10e-14 ~10e-14 ~8*10e-5 20.7 mag
Field of View 30' 30' ~5' 17'
PSF (FWHM/HEW) 5"/14" 6"/15" N/A 1.4"-2.0"
Pixel size 40 μm (1.1") 150 μm (4.1") 81 μm (9*10e-3 Å) 0.476513"
Timing resolution 1.75 ms 0.03 ms 0.6 s 0.5 s
Spectral resolution ~70 eV ~80 eV 0.04/0.025 Å


XMM's First Light

XMM observed the X-ray sky for the first time January 19, 2000. The observation was done with the pn-CCD camera, which was developed by the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestial Physics (MPE) in collaboration with our institute.

The Orbit

It takes XMM-Newton 48 hours to orbit Earth. At perigee (closest approach), it passes 21,500 km above Earth at a speed of 24,000 km/h. The operational orbit is highly eccentric so that the instruments can work outside the radiation belts surrounding the Earth.

Data analysis in Tuebingen

Diploma theses:

  • Analysis of the influence of optical light to the CTE of the XMM-Newton pn-CCD detectors.
  • Simulation of AGN-Evolution and observation of them with XMM.
  • Analysis of calibration methods for the timing mode of the X-ray-pn-CCDs on XMM-Newton.

PhD theses:

  • X-ray observations of black hole and neutron star binary systems.
  • Monte-Carlo Background studies for space-based detectors in X-ray astronomy.
  • X-ray properties of NGC 300 point sources detected with XMM-Newton and their optical counterparts.
  • Analyses of Quasar 3C273 using XMM-Newton and RXTE.
  • The Maranofield with XMM-Newton.
  • Observation of compact objects with XMM and RXTE : The abnormal Pulsar 1E 1048.1 5937 and the Polar RX J1940.1 1025.
  • In-orbit calibration of the EPIC-pn-camera on XMM-Newton in high time resolution modes and pulse-phase spectroscopy of the Crab Pulsar.

Poster: (Note: Click on the posters to enlarge them.)

10th anniversary

As XMM-Newton was launched on 10 December 1999 on a mission to peer into the most energetic phenomena in the Universe, XMM-Newtons 10th anniversary was celebrated at the end of 2009.

For 10 years XMM-Newton has simultaneously collected X-rays, visible and ultarviolet light and consistently demonstrated its role as one of the most imortant astronomical observatories of the time. XMM-Newton will continue to keep watching the ever changing X-ray sky and to make exciting discoveries to further our understanding of the universe.

IAAT Participation

The Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics in Tübingen (IAAT) participates in the following tasks for XMM-Newton:

  • Development and manufacturing of parts of the electronics that read out the pn-CCD camera.
  • Development of a special electronic module (ASIC) in collaboration with the industry (TEMIC and DD&T, Reutlingen) to reduce the data on board.
  • Development of the on-board software to run the event processor.
  • Measurements to test the pn-CCDs with the help of vacuum measuring equipment of the institute.
  • Calibration of the pn-CCD camera on ground (Panter Testcenter of the MPE, BESSY and Synchrotron in Orsay).
  • Calibration of the pn-CCD camera in orbit.
  • Preparation and analysis of scientific observations, especially X-ray binary systems (neutron stars, black holes) and active galaxies.

National and International Collaborations

The EPIC cameras were built by a consortium of 13 European institutes (GB, F, I, D). Tübingen collaborated closely with :

  • Max-Planck-Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics (MPE) in Garching
  • European Space Technology Center (ESTEC) in Noordwijk, NL
  • European Satellite Operation Center (ESOC) in Darmstadt
  • European Space Astronomy Center (ESAC) near Madrid, E

Last Update 08/2018: Inga Saathoff, Chris Tenzer