This Thursday, NASA’s Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) satellite was launched at liftoff on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, the first satellite capable of measuring the polarization of X-rays from cosmic sources such as black holes and neutron stars.
This polarization is a property of light that describes the orientation of its electrical and magnetic energy.
SpaceX launched the spacecraft on its $188 million mission from Kennedy Space Center.
IXPE will create images to better understand the universe
The fridge-sized IXPE satellite, or observatory, has three telescopes, each equipped with a set of mirrors and a detector that allow it to track and measure four properties of light – its direction, arrival time, energy and polarization.
Combining all these data creates images that could help better understand how celestial objects work, such as the structure of the Crab Nebula, a supernova remnant with a rapidly spinning neutron star at its center.
As planned, the rocket’s first stage will land SpaceX’s drone ship “Just Read the Instructions” after ferrying IXPE to space.
IXPE is going to open a new window on the X-ray sky
Scientists said the observatory will unveil the most dramatic and extreme parts of the universe as never before.
“IXPE is going to open a new window on the X-ray sky,” Brian Ramsey, NASA’s deputy principal scientist, said this week to AP.
“[IXPE] is going to look at the really wonderful zoo of neutron stars and black hole systems, [in] and out of the galaxies,” Martin Weisskopf, chief scientist for x-ray astronomy at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and principal investigator for IXPE, said to MIT Technology Review’s Tatyana Woodall.