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Physics — Cosmic collisions revealed

Physicist Charles Havener uses the NASA end station at ORNL’s Multicharged Ion Research Facility to simulate the origin of X-ray emissions from space. Credit: Carlos Jones/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy

Scientists are using Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Multicharged Ion Research Facility to simulate the cosmic origin of X-ray emissions resulting when highly charged ions collide with neutral atoms and molecules, such as helium and gaseous hydrogen.

“This facility gives us a new X-ray observational window to peer into otherwise invisible processes found in star-forming galaxies, galaxy clusters, supernova remnants and relativistic jets from black holes,” said ORNL’s Charles Havener.  

Havener and collaborators developed techniques to collide beams of ions with neutral atoms or molecules present in space. They measure X-ray emissions from charge-exchange processes using an X-ray quantum calorimeter developed at the University of Wisconsin with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Its high resolution will enable improved understanding of astrophysical processes.

“In the future, we want to measure X-ray emissions from charge exchange with atomic hydrogen, the most abundant element in the universe – but the most challenging measurement in a lab,” Havener said.