ATHENA: Le grande observatoire d’Astronomie X


The European Space Agency's (ESA) Cosmic Vision long-range space mission (Large) is the European Space Agency's (ESA) Advanced Large Telescope (ENG) mission. This mission is dedicated to the scientific theme The hot and violent Universe which it plans to explore with the launch in 2028 of a large observatory of X astronomy designed by a consortium of European institutes, particularly France, Germany and Italy, and with US and Japanese participation.

Athena is an observatory composed of a large 12-meter X-ray telescope capable of focusing energy rays between 0.1 - 12 keV alternately in the focal plane of two different instruments, the wide field imager (WFI) and High-resolution X-ray Integral Field Unit (X-IFU). Athena's main objectives are to provide answers to two fundamental questions that have not yet been resolved:

  • How does matter come together in the universe to form the large structures that are observed (clusters of galaxies and galaxies)?
  • How do giant black holes form and grow and what effects do they have on the evolution of the universe?

But this large observatory will also allow carrying out other studies of astrophysics and cosmology, in particular in the fields of compact objects (black holes, neutron stars, white dwarfs), supernova and pulsar nebulae, the physics of clusters of galaxies and active nuclei of galaxies (AGN), the hot plasma of the interstellar medium, the stars, and also certain phenomena of the solar system.

Currently three X-observatories are in the operational phase: XMM-Newton of ESA, Chandra of NASA and Suzaku of JAXA. In the near future (2016-2017) two other X missions will be launched: Astro-H (mainly Japanese and American mission with ESA participation) and eROSITA/SRG (Russian / German mission). These missions bring and will continue to make important contributions in the field of X-ray readings, galaxy clusters and NGAs, as well as in the study of hard X-ray sources and non-thermal phenomena. Athena represents an essential perspective for this field of research in astrophysics and cosmology. France and APC, whose researchers make extensive use of XMM data and contribute directly to the Astro-H project, are participating in this major international scientific project.


The Athena mission concept includes three key elements:

  • an X - ray telescope with a 12-m focal length, a spatial resolution of about 5 arcsec, and a large effective area of 2 m2 at 1 keV, using innovative technology, SPO (Silicon Pore Optics) ESA
  • a high spectral spectral imager (2.5 eV FWHM), the X-IFU (Integral Field Unit)
  • a large field spectro-imager (40 arcmin) with a moderate spectral resolution (<150 eV), the WFI (Wide Field Imager).

These detectors will give it a capacity of observation of two orders of magnitude greater than the instruments of the previous generation. Athena will allow spectacular advances in all fields of science, thanks in particular to the very large collector area of about 2 m2, the good angular resolution of 5" combined with the large field of view and above all the exceptional spectral resolution of 2.5 eV of the X-IFU spectrometer.

ESA is preparing to launch the instrument call and the Athena ground segment in early 2016, with an A1 phase starting in 2015 for the laboratories and an industrial A2 phase of the mission that would begin immediately after the instrument selection and Followed by a phase B from 2018 onwards.

Several scientific themes of Athena overlap with the research subjects of the High-Energy Astrophysics and Cosmology groups of the APC laboratory, in particular:

  • The Galactic Center and the super-massive black hole of the Galaxy
  • Galactic compact objects
  • The variability and spectroscopy of AGN
  • Deep cosmological surveys and clusters of galaxies
  • Acceleration processes and particle interactions

The APC is participating in the project as part of the French contribution to the mission, particularly within the Athena X-IFU consortium. The responsibilities and tasks identified are::

  • Development of the X-IFU spectrometer's Warm Front End Electronics (WFEE) subsytem.
  • Participation in the X-IFU simulation program
  • A contribution to the Athena ground segment is also being considered.

List of APC staff involved

  • GOLDWURM Andrea (Scientific responsible)
  • OLIVETTO Christian (Project manager)

Scientific team 

(Thematic groups at APC High-Energy Astrophysics and Cosmology)

  • BECKMANN Volker (Responsable segment sol)
  • LAURENT Philippe (Responsable simulations)
  • BARTLETT James
  • GABICI Stefano
  • GOLDONI Paolo
  • GOLDWURM Andrea
  • PARIZOT Etienne
  • PIAT Michel
  • TERRIER Régis
  • VARNIERE Peggy

Technical team (WFEE)

  • BARONICK Jean Pierre
  • COLONGE Stéphane
  • Dheilly Stéphane
  • FRAISSE Eric
  • JOUFFROY  Corinne
  • LINDSEY Clark Miles
  • PRELE Damien
  • ROBERT Jean-Luc
  • SANTOS Cailletano
  • VOISIN Fabrice

APC services

Administration, communication, control projet control and quality, electronics, instrumentation (cryogenic microelectronics laboratory), mechanics. FACe (segment sol).


Roles of APC scientists in Athena:

  • A. Goldwurm : member of the X-IFU Science Team and member of an ASWG, national contact point for Athena, IN2P3 contact point Athena project
  • P. Laurent : Co-Chair of the Athena Science Working Group on background noise (background)
  • Other ASWG members: V. Beckmann, S. Gabici, Y. Giraud-Heraud, R. Terrier