"Lobster Eyes" in the Sky: China's Quantum Leap in Space Science Technology

China's recent launch of the X-ray astronomical satellite, Einstein Probe (EP), marks a significant breakthrough in the realm of space science. This state-of-the-art satellite has adopted a cutting-edge technology inspired by the structure of lobster eyes, showcasing China's prowess in space exploration. Led by China, the EP project involved collaboration with the European Space Agency and the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Germany. The French Space Agency contributed VHF (very high frequency) antennas for the EP.


Innovative Design and Functionality

Shaped like a double pistil lotus blossom with 12 petals blooming in space, the EP is designed to detect bursts in the universe at X-ray frequencies. Each "petal" functions as a unique X-ray telescope, featuring 36 microporous imagers, each containing nearly one million square openings thinner than a single strand of hair. Yuan Weimin, the principal investigator of the EP, highlighted the challenges of creating an X-ray telescope capable of focusing and wide-field imaging due to the unique characteristics of X-ray photons.

Taking Inspiration from Lobster Eyes

To overcome the challenges associated with focusing X-ray photons, scientists drew inspiration from the distinctive eye structure of lobsters, a concept initially proposed by American astronomer Roger Angel. Lobster eyes consist of numerous tiny square tubes with a common round center, allowing light to reflect in the tubes from all directions and converge on the retina. This unique structure provides lobsters with a large field of view. Scientists replicated the lobster eye design to create a telescope capable of detecting X-rays in space.

Achieving a Technological Breakthrough

Collaborating with various organizations, the X-ray Imaging Lab of the National Astronomical Observatories of China (NAOC) initiated the research and development of lobster-eye X-ray imaging technology in 2010. After years of efforts, the team achieved a technological breakthrough, culminating in the validation testing of the Lobster Eye Imager for Astronomy (LEIA), a precursor to the EP instrument launched in July 2022. LEIA captured the world's most extensive collection of large-field X-ray snapshots of the sky during the validation tests.


Unprecedented Field of View

Unlike previous X-ray telescopes with a field of view roughly the size of the Moon as seen from Earth, the EP boasts a field of view potentially as extensive as around 10,000 Moons. This breakthrough allows for efficient monitoring of X-ray variations in celestial bodies, presenting a significant advancement in space observation capabilities.

CMOS Sensors and Spectral Resolution

The EP also leads in the utilization of complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) sensors, providing high spectral resolution and fast processing speeds. Ling Zhixing, a scientist at NAOC, emphasized that applying CMOS sensors to X-ray astronomical observations in space represents a revolutionary advancement in detection technology.

Pioneering China's Space Science

The successful launch of the EP further solidifies China's position in space science. Yuan Weimin emphasized the rapid progress China has made in space science over the past few years, positioning the country at the forefront in certain fields. The lobster-eye telescope technology is poised to revolutionize X-ray sky monitoring, highlighting the potential of the Einstein Probe mission.


In conclusion, the Einstein Probe's utilization of lobster-eye technology stands as a testament to China's dedication to pushing the boundaries of space science and contributing innovative solutions to the exploration of the universe.

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