El Reg touches down at the ESA's Spanish outpost, sniffs around

Lab coats on, pipes at the ready for European Space Astronomy Centre tour

Here we were greeted by XMM-Newton scientist José Ramón Muñoz...

Matt with Ramon Munoz in the XMM-Newton Science Operations Centre

...who explained that he'd been on board the X-ray slurping mission "forever", actually since 1996, before the XMM-Newton even launched in 1999.

The venerable spacecraft, Muñoz told us, is in "a very elliptical two-day orbit, with an apogee of around 130,000km and a closest point to the Earth of around 13-14,000km".

Our Playmonaut atop a monitor in the XMM-Newton control room

This carries the spacecraft outside the Earth's Van Allen belts, which interfere with X-ray observations. Nowadays, Lagrangian point L2 would be the position of choice for X-ray scope, but when XMM-Newton launched, that option wasn't available.

Artist's impression of the XMM-Newton spacecraft. Pic: ESA

XMM-Newton contributes to a picture of the universe across the spectra, complimenting images from, for example, the Hubble Space Telescope, which doesn't have X-ray capability.

In 2005, the spaceraft snapped a Type II supernova in galaxy M51, shown here as a false colour image combining visible and ultraviolet images:

Supernova captured by XMM-Newton. Pic: Stefan Immler and Gulab Dewangan and ESA

Good stuff, and suitably impressed, we grabbed a quick snap for the scrapbook...

Matt poses with our Playmonaut in the XMM-Newton control room

...and we were off to check out the Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity (SMOS) Earth Explorer satellite.

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