MPE shares institutional Marcel Grossmann Award for development of eROSITA aboard SRG

July 05, 2021
At today’s 16th Marcel Grossmann meeting, Dr. Peter Predehl accepted the Institutional Marcel Grossmann Award, which has been awarded to the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics (MPE). The institute receives the award jointly with the S.A. Lavochkin Association and the Space Research Institute (IKI) of the Russian Academy of Sciences “for the creation of the world’s best X-ray map of the entire sky”.

On behalf of MPE, Dr. Peter Predehl has been presented with the institutional Marcel Grossmann award “for the creation of the world's best X-ray map of the entire sky, for the discovery of millions of previously unknown accreting supermassive black holes at cosmological redshifts, for the detection of X-rays from tens of thousands of galaxy clusters, filled mainly with dark matter, and for permitting the detailed investigation of the growth of the large-scale structure of the universe during the era of dark energy dominance”. MPE shares the award with the S.A. Lavochkin Association and the Space Research Institute (IKI) of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

MPE has received the award for the development of the eROSITA X-ray telescope aboard the Russian-German Spektr-RG mission, which was successfully launched from Baikonur on July 13, 2019 and placed in a halo orbit around the L2 point. It has since performed an all-sky X-ray survey with unprecedented sensitivity, spectral and angular resolution. The previous best map of this kind was provided by ROSAT, also an MPE-led project, more than 30 years ago. Already the first eROSITA map reached about 4 times deeper.  

“If anything, eROSITA and SRG are performing even better than we had hoped and expected,” said Predehl. “It’s a dream come true.”

eROSITA was designed to detect at least 100.000 clusters of galaxies and map out the evolution of the large-scale structure of the Universe. The sky survey is also in the process of revealing millions of accreting supermassive black holes across cosmic time, and providing new insight into the physics of X-ray source populations in our galaxy, such as pre-main sequence stars, supernova remnants and X-ray binaries.

Clusters of galaxies are the largest collapsed objects in the Universe and their formation and evolution is governed by the competition between gravity, i.e. Dark Matter, and the mysterious “Dark Energy” which is causing the expansion of the University to accelerate. X-ray observations of clusters of galaxies can be used to measure accurately key cosmological parameters such as the rate of expansion of the Universe and its evolution, the amount of dark matter, and the amplitude of primordial fluctuations, which are the origin of the whole structure of the universe.

The eROSITA telescope consists of seven identical Wolter-1 mirror modules. Its novel detector system was developed by MPE based on the successful XMM-Newton pn-CCD technology. MPE is the scientific lead institute of eROSITA, responsible for the development of the instrument, the operation, the analysis software and data archive. In 2020, eROSITA completed the first of eight surveys and, at this time, already discovered more than 1 million X-ray sources, more than all X-ray observatories of the last 50 years together. This demonstrates that the design goals of the mission will easily be fulfilled.

The award comes hot on the heels of the first public release of eROSITA data, together with a slew of scientific papers prepared by the German eROSITA collaboration that prove the discovery power of the instrument.  “Under Peter Predehl’s leadership the eROSITA team has conceived, designed and built a state-of-the-art instrument. We are now successfully operating it in space, processing and analysing the data on the ground, and delivering on its scientific promise”, said Kirpal Nandra, Director at MPE and head of the High Energy Group. “It’s a remarkable achievement for the Institute and a delight for this to be recognized with this award, along with our partners in Russia.”  

As Principal Investigator, Predehl led the development of eROSITA and was German lead scientist of the SRG mission for more than a decade. But he is the first to point out that eROSITA’s success is the culmination of the efforts of an exceptionally talented, hard-working and dedicated team. „Many individual MPE members have received prizes in the past, but this is the first one for the institute as a whole”, he adds. “It’s great that the whole team effort has been recognized, and I am proud to have contributed to this amazing project.”

The Marcel Grossmann Award is named for a Swiss mathematician and a friend and classmate of Albert Einstein. Since 1985, the International Center for Relativistic Astrophysics in Rome presents the awards for research in gravitation and astrophysics at the Marcel Grossmann meetings, which take place every three years. There are both individual and institutional awards. Each recipient receives a silver casting of the T. E. S. T. sculpture by the artist A. Pierelli.

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