NASANew X-ray eyes open and ready to be detected!
After spending just over a month in space, Exploratory X-ray Imaging (IXPE) is already up and running and focusing on some of the hottest, most energetic objects in the universe.
A joint effort between NASA and the Italian Space Agency, IXPE is the first space observatory dedicated to studying the polarization of X-rays from objects such as supernovae and black holes. Polarization describes how X-ray light is directed as it travels through space.
“The beginning of IXPE’s science observations marks a new chapter in X-ray astronomy,” said Martin Weiskopf, mission principal investigator at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. “One thing is for sure: We can expect the unexpected.
IXPE launched a Falcon 9 rocket on December 9 to an orbit 370 miles (600 km) above the equator. The observatory’s electrode, which provides the distance needed to focus the X-rays on its detectors, was successfully deployed on December 15. The IXPE team spent the next three weeks checking the observatory’s ability to maneuver, point and align the telescopes.
During these tests, the team aimed IXPE at two bright targets for calibration: 1ES 1959 + 650, a galactic core powered by a black hole with jets launched into space; The SMC X-1, a rotating dead star, or pulsar. The brightness of these two sources allowed the IXPE team to easily see where the X-rays fall on the polarization-sensitive IXPE detectors and make small adjustments to the telescope’s alignment.
What’s next for IXPE?
On January 11, IXPE began observing its first official scientific target – Cassiopeia A, or Cas A – the remnant of a massive star that erupted into a supernova about 350 years ago in our country. Milky Way galaxy. Supernovas are filled with magnetic energy and accelerate particles to near-light speeds, making them laboratories for studying the extreme physics of space.
IXPE will provide details about the magnetic field structure of Cas A that cannot be observed otherwise. By studying the polarization of X-rays, scientists can determine the detailed structure of its magnetic field and the locations where these particles pick up velocity.
Case A notes from IXPE will last about three weeks.
“Measuring X-ray polarizations is not easy,” Weisskov said. “You have to collect a lot of light, and the unpolarized light acts as background noise. It may take some time for the polarized signal to be detected.
Learn more about the IXPE mission
IXPE transmits scientific data several times a day to a ground station operated by the Italian Space Agency in Malindi, Kenya. Data flows from the Malindi station to the IXPE mission operations center to the University of Colorado at Boulder’s Laboratory of Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP), and then to the IXPE Science Operations Center at NASA Marshall for processing and analysis. The science data for IXPE will be publicly available at the High Energy Astrophysical Sciences Research Center at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
Marshall’s science operations team also coordinates with the mission operations team at LASP to plan scientific observations. The mission plans to monitor more than 30 planned targets in its first year. The mission will study distant supermassive black holes with jets of energetic particles illuminating their host galaxies. IXPE will also examine the warped spacetime around stellar-mass black holes and measure their spins. Other planned targets include various types of neutron stars, such as pulsars and magnetars. The science team also devoted about a month to observing other interesting things that might appear in the sky or light up unexpectedly.
IXPE is a collaboration between NASA and the Italian Space Agency with scientific partners and collaborators in 12 countries. Ball Aerospace, headquartered in Broomfield, Colorado, operates the spacecraft.
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