By Edoardo Cucchetti (IRAP, Toulouse, France)
What are we made of? Most of the atoms and elements we know of are formed within stars, either during their life (winds) or during powerful end-of-life phenomena called supernovae. In fact, different mechanisms of metal creation exist in the Universe and elements were not formed evenly during its history. To investigate this chemical enrichment, one must look in the X-rays at the hot gas within clusters of galaxies – the intra cluster medium (ICM) – which is continuously enriched through time by the billions of stars contained in its galaxies. However, to perform meaningful studies of the enrichment through cosmic time, a combination of a high-resolution spatially-resolved spectroscopy and a large telescope collective area is required. For this reason, the Athena/X-IFU will be the breakthrough instrument to investigate metal formation and circulation in the Universe.
In this paper, we tested the power of the X-IFU to fulfil this specific science objective. Using a set of simulated clusters derived from hydrodynamical simulations, we performed synthetic observations of this sample of objects through time, up to a redshift z=2 (10.4 billion years ago) with a completely realistic set-up (including e.g., background, instrumental effects). We demonstrated that with routine 100 ks observations, the X-IFU will be able to study the enrichment with unprecedented accuracy out to the outskirts of the clusters and provide solid answers to the origin of their metal content.
This work is paramount in the Athena context, as it shows the power of the mission in answering some of the key astrophysical questions of our time. It also serves as a feasibility study of the X-IFU, consolidating the current design and the need for spatially-resolved high-resolution spectroscopy.