NASA has a 36-Pixel Sensor

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Yes, 36 pixels, not 36 megapixels.
The X-ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission (XRISM), pronounced “crism,” is a collaboration between NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).
The mission’s imaging instrument, Resolve, has a 36-pixel image sensor.
This six-by-six pixel array measures 0.2 inches (five millimeters) per side, which is not so different from the image sensor in the Apple iPhone 15 and 15 Plus.
That’s 48,000,000 pixels, just a handful more than 36.
The image sensor has a total of 60,217,344 pixels, 1,672,704 times the number of pixels in XRISM’s Resolve imager.
At this point, it is reasonable to wonder, “What could scientists possibly see with just 36 pixels?” As it turns out, quite a lot.
The 36-pixel image sensor must be extremely cold during scientific operations to pull off this incredible feat.


With just 36 pixels, NASA’s newest camera performs ground-breaking space science, while the agency’s James Webb Space Telescope assists astronomers in taking 122-megapixel pictures 1.5 million kilometers from Earth. That’s correct—36 pixels, not 36 megapixels.

Jointly developed by NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the X-ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission (XRISM), is pronounced “crism.”. After the mission’s satellite entered orbit in September of last year, it has been searching the universe for solutions to some of the most challenging problems facing science. With a 36-pixel image sensor, Resolve is the imaging instrument on the mission.

Compared to the image sensor in the Apple iPhone 15 and 15 Plus, this six-by-six pixel array is similar in size, measuring 0 point 2 inches (five millimeters) on each side. 48 megapixels are packed into an eight by six millimeter main camera in those smartphones. That is 48,000,000 pixels, which is only slightly more than 36.

A full-frame camera would be a better option. The Sony a7R V, the standard high-resolution mirrorless camera, boasts more than 60 megapixels and produces 9,504 by 6,336 pixel images. XRISM’s Resolve imager has 1,672,704 times as many pixels as the image sensor, with a total of 60,217,344 pixels.

It’s fair to ask at this point, “What could scientists possibly see with just 36 pixels?” and the answer is—quite a bit.

About 5,000 times more energetic than visible light wavelengths, “soft” X-rays are detected by Resolve. It investigates the largest structures, hottest spots, and most massive cosmic objects—like supermassive black holes—in the universe. It might not have many pixels, but the ones it does have are amazing; they can generate a wide range of visual data, from 400 to 12,000 electron volts.

More than just a camera, Resolve is. “Its detector measures the temperature of every X-ray that hits it,” says Brian Williams, a NASA XRISM project scientist at Goddard. Since each of Resolve’s 36 pixels measures minuscule amounts of heat produced by each incoming X-ray, we are able to see the chemical fingerprints of the sources in unprecedented detail. This is why we refer to Resolve as a microcalorimeter spectrometer. “. “.

Stated differently, every one of the 36 pixels in the sensor is capable of accurately and independently measuring variations in the temperature of particular light wavelengths. The sensor can determine the energy of a single electromagnetic radiation particle by monitoring the changes in temperature of each pixel in response to the X-ray it absorbs.

These X-rays contain a wealth of information that can teach scientists a great deal about extremely far-off objects.

In essence, Resolve “provides a 3D view” by precisely detecting specific light wavelengths that allow it to discern the movements of individual elements within a target. The camera is able to track the behavior of various elements in supernova explosion debris and detect gas flow in distant galaxy clusters.

In order to accomplish this amazing feat, the 36-pixel image sensor needs to be kept extremely cold during scientific operations.

For the purpose of maintaining its coolness while capturing high-definition video, filmmakers can affix a fan to their mirrorless camera. But a fan is simply insufficient for an instrument like Resolve.

The sensor is cooled down to -459.58 degrees Fahrenheit (-273.1 degrees Celsius) using a six-stage cooling system. This is only 0.09 degrees Fahrenheit (0.05 degrees Celsius) above absolute zero. It is noteworthy to mention that the average temperature of the universe is approximately -454.08 degrees Fahrenheit (-270.04 degrees Celsius).

Although it may seem unbelievable, a 36-pixel camera is actually helping scientists discover new things about the universe, according to Richard Kelley, the U. s. chief scientist for XRISM at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Using technology developed and improved at Goddard over the previous several decades, Kelley says, “the Resolve instrument gives us a deeper look at the makeup and motion of X-ray-emitting objects.”.

The most accurate and thorough X-ray spectrum data in astrophysics history is provided by XRISM and Resolve. Their three dozen pixels are ending the megapixel race and paving the way for a new era of human understanding of the universe.

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