Rashid Sunyaev receives German Federal Cross of Merit

End of June, the Bavarian Minister for Science, Research and Art, Dr. Wolfgang Heubisch, presented Rashid Sunyaev, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics with the German Federal Order of Merit on ribbon for his fundamental contributions to cosmology and astrophysics. In his honorific speech, Dr. Heubisch highlighted Sunyaev’s scientific achievements, awards and membership in many renowned science academies worldwide. In particular he mentioned that in the end of the 1980s, Sunyaev was head of the international team transforming the research module ”KVANT“ on the Russian space station MIR into a X-ray observatory.

Fig.: Energy spectrum of the hard X-rays observed from the supernova SN 87A (squares, crosses and diamonds). The histograms show the results of Monte Carlo simulations of the envelope 180 and 210 days after the explosion. (From the original publication in Nature, 19 November 1987, Vol 330, p227)

In 1987, the two X-Ray detectors in the KVANT module, the HEXE hard X-Ray detector developed at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics and the Russian hard X-Ray detector Pulsar-X1, detected a strong signal from the well-known supernova SN 87A in the Large Magellanic Cloud. The analysis of the data showed that high energy gamma-rays from the radioactive decay of Co-56 were scattered multiple times in the optically thick envelope, resulting in an unusually hard X-Ray spectrum. Moreover the scientists found that this envelope was already strongly mixed — only a few months after the explosion.

The MIR-KVANT X-Ray observatory discovered many other astronomical sources, including black hole transients and rapidly rotating neutron stars. ”This was an excellent example of scientific cooperation between the Soviet Union and Germany in space,“ says Rashid Sunyaev, ”and we hope that this will continue in the framework of the Russian Spectrum-X mission with the German eRosita telescope aboard.“

A colleague of Sunyaev’s, Prof. Stephan Paul from the Excellence Cluster Universe and the Technical University Munich was honoured likewise with the Federal Order of Merit the same day.