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NASA Launches IXPE Mission to Explore the Universe’s Most Violent and Exotic Objects

Posted by Guy Pirro   12/09/2021 04:18PM

NASA Launches IXPE Mission to Explore the Universe’s Most Violent and Exotic Objects

NASA’s Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) mission will allow astronomers to discover, for the first time, the hidden details of some of the most exotic astronomical objects in our universe. IXPE is NASA’s first mission dedicated to measuring the polarization of X-rays from a variety of cosmic sources. Polarization is a characteristic of light that carries information about where it comes from and what it passes through. The satellite’s three X-ray telescopes have sensitive detectors to measure the polarization of cosmic X-rays, allowing scientists to answer fundamental questions about the physics of these extremely complex environments where gravitational, electric, and magnetic fields are at their limits. (Image Credit: NASA)

 


NASA Launches IXPE Mission to Explore the Universe’s Most Violent and Exotic Objects

NASA’s Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) mission launched at 1:00 AM EST this morning on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

A joint effort with the Italian Space Agency, the IXPE observatory is NASA’s first mission dedicated to measuring the polarization of X-rays from the most extreme and mysterious objects in the universe – supernova remnants, supermassive black holes, magnetars, and dozens of other high-energy objects.

“IXPE represents another extraordinary first,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Together with our partners in Italy and around the world, we’ve added a new space observatory to our fleet that will shape our understanding of the Universe for years to come. Each NASA spacecraft is carefully chosen to target brand new observations enabling new science, and IXPE is going to show us the violent Universe around us – such as exploding stars and the black holes at the center of galaxies – in ways we’ve never been able to see it.”

 “It is an indescribable feeling to see something you’ve worked on for decades become real and launch into space,” said Martin Weisskopf, IXPE’s principal investigator at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Weisskopf came up with the idea for the spacecraft and has conducted seminal experiments in X-ray astronomy since the 1970s. “This is just the beginning for IXPE. We have much work ahead. But tonight, we celebrate!” Weisskopf led the development, construction, and testing of both Chandra and IXPE.

 

 

 

A partnership with the Italian Space Agency, NASA’s newest X-ray collector will measure the polarization of X-rays from some of the most energetic cosmic objects – from the remnants exploded stars to supermassive black holes and their powerful jets of energetic particles – to further our understanding of the Universe and how it works. Polarization is a property of X-rays and other types of electromagnetic waves. It describes the orientation of the electric parts of the waves as they travel through space. But polarized X-rays are impossible to observe without the right tools.

IXPE carries three state-of-the-art space telescopes with special polarization-sensitive detectors. The new mission builds on and complements the scientific discoveries of other telescopes, including the Chandra X-ray Observatory, NASA’s flagship X-ray telescope. First light operations are scheduled to begin in January.

IXPE is NASA’s first mission to explore the polarization signatures of a variety of X-ray sources. IXPE’s polarization measurements will add new and unique levels of detail to scientists’ understanding of these brilliant and bizarre objects, their surrounding environment, and the natural processes occurring under conditions impossible to recreate in laboratories on Earth. 

That suits Weisskopf just fine. He’s keen, for example, to conduct new observations of supermagnetized stellar remnants called a magnetars. Magnetars are a type of isolated neutron star – the crushed, city-sized remains of an exploded star many times more massive than our Sun. What sets magnetars apart is the enormous storehouse of energy tied up in their magnetic fields, the strongest known in the universe.

“By studying magnetars with IXPE, we can verify the size of those fields, and test how they’re produced by these collapsed stellar bodies,” he said. 

Scientists around the world will study IXPE’s findings for decades, Weisskopf noted – but what really thrills him isn’t validating existing models, or concepts.

“What I’d like most are findings that blow our theories out of the water,” Weisskopf said. “Science is most exciting when we find evidence that doesn’t line up, behavior that runs counter to expectations. When we don’t know what the heck is going on, that’s when the fun begins.”

NASA Marshall manages the IXPE mission for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate as a project of the NASA’s Explorers Program. IXPE is an international collaboration between NASA, the Italian Space Agency, along with partners and providers in 12 other countries. Marshall built the three X-ray telescopes. The Italian Space Agency contributed IXPE’s polarization detectors. Ball Aerospace in Broomfield, Colorado, provided the spacecraft and manages spacecraft operations at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the Explorers Program.

 

For more information:

 

https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/ixpe/news/50-years-of-x-ray-vision-scientist-leads-nasa-s-next-step-in-x-ray-astronomy.html

 

https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/ixpe/news/50-years-of-x-ray-vision-scientist-leads-nasa-s-next-step-in-x-ray-astronomy.html

 

https://astromart.com/news/show/researchers-observe-formation-of-a-magnetar-65-billion-light-years-away

 

https://astromart.com/news/show/the-crab-nebula-as-never-before-seen

 

https://astromart.com/news/show/a-look-at-supernova-1987a-thirty-years-later

 

https://astromart.com/news/show/villanova-astronomers-discover-a-new-class-of-pulsating-x-ray-stars

 

https://astromart.com/news/show/extreme-power-of-a-black-hole-is-revealed

 

https://astromart.com/news/show/like-watching-a-train-wreck-in-slow-motion

 

 

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