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Artistic view of Athena X-ray observatory

NASA approves $4 million in funding for Penn State led ATHENA consortium

8 September 2021

NASA has approved continued funding for U.S. contributions led by Penn State astronomers to the Wide Field Imager (WFI) instrument on the European Space Agency's (ESA) Athena X-ray observatory, which is scheduled to launch in 2034.

Penn State leads a consortium including MIT, the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, and Stanford University, and was awarded a cooperative agreement for $4.0M in total funding with NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center for the next four years. The project, which began with a $5.17M grant in 2016, is led by Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics David Burrows and Research Professor Abe Falcone.

Artistic view of Athena X-ray observatory
An artistic view of Athena space observatory. Credit: ESA/IRAP/CNRS/UT3/CNES/Fab&Fab. Composition: ACO

ATHENA, the Advanced Telescope for High-ENergy Astrophysics, was selected in 2014 to be ESA’s second large mission in their “Cosmic Vision” program. The program is designed to address major questions associated with the theme "The Hot and Energetic Universe," including: How and why does ordinary matter assemble into the galaxies and galaxy clusters that we see today? And, how do black holes grow and influence their surroundings?

The WFI is one of the two scientific instruments proposed for Athena and will provide X-ray imaging over a wide field. The Penn State team will work with the WFI team to minimize and accurately model any background noise from the instrument and to develop techniques to rapidly identify X-ray sources in the WFI images.